Wife convicted for slaying of spouse

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Even as she was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison, the wife of sideshow performer Lobster Boy maintained the contract slaying of her pincer-handed husband protected her family.

“My husband was going to kill my family — I believe that from the bottom of my heart,” Mary Teresa Stiles said through tears as she stood before the judge. “I’m sorry this happened, but my family is safe now. ... At least I know they’re alive, and I thank God for that.”

Acting Circuit Judge William Fuente said he was “genuinely sympathetic” to the 56-year-old grandmother and had no doubt she was a battered spouse.

“What happened happened and it’s a tragedy,” Fuente told Stiles. “And there is a price that has to be paid, as unjust as that may seem to you.”

He gave her concurrent sentences for manslaughter and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. State guidelines call for anywhere from seven to 22 years. Stiles has already served nearly two years in jail or under house arrest.

Defense attorney Arnold Levine estimated his client will end up serving no more than a third of the remaining 10 years and could be out of prison in as little as a year and a half. Her sentence will be followed by five years on probation.

Mrs. Stiles was convicted last month in the November 1992 death of 55-year-old carnival performer Grady Stiles Jr. A teen-age neighbor who had been paid $1,500 shot him twice in the back of the head as he sat in his trailer watching television.

The neighbor, 19-year-old Christopher Wyant, was convicted of second-degree murder and has been sentenced to 27 years behind bars.

Throughout her two-week murder trial, Mrs. Stiles portrayed her claw-handed, stub-legged husband as a drunken brute who routinely swatted her, butted her with his head, sexually abused her with a blackjack and threatened her and her family with death.

She claimed she couldn’t leave because her husband would hunt her down and kill her. She called it a kill-or-be-killed situation.

But prosecutors called it a murder of convenience, saying she was not in imminent danger the night of the slaying and had many options to remedy the situation short of hiring a hit man.

Her stepson, 20-year-old Harry Glenn Newman, was convicted earlier this month of first-degree murder for serving as the middleman in the plot. He is to be sentenced next month to a mandatory life term without possibility of parole for 25 years.

Assistant State Attorney Ron Hanes argued for a 22-year sentence for Mrs. Stiles, saying she “has to have accountability for her actions ... for what her actions have done to others.”

In the courtroom, two children born with the same lobster claw deformities as their father, Cathy Stiles Berry, 25, and Grady Stiles III, 18, wept as their mother was led away to prison. They had testified in her defense.

“Sometimes you are better off for the abuser to kill you,” Cathy said after Monday’s sentencing, “because you are not abused any more and you don’t have to spend time behind bars.”

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