Accused of Murdering Husband, Teacher Cites Years of Abuse

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PONTIAC, Mich., Dec. 7, 2004 -- -- A former elementary school teacher on trial for murder testified today that she tried to leave her husband after years of abuse but hacked him to death with a hatchet during one last violent encounter because "I had to stop him."

Nancy Seaman, 52, is charged with first-degree, premeditated murder. Prosecutors say that on May 9, after a fight with her husband, she went to a store, bought a hatchet, then went home and savagely killed Robert Seaman, 57, by hitting him 15 times with the hatchet and stabbing him 21 times with a knife.

Seaman, who taught fourth grade at Longacre Elementary School, allegedly wrapped her husband's body in a tarp and put it in her sport utility vehicle, where police found it May 12 at the couple's home in Farmington Hills, a Detroit suburb.

Seaman maintains she acted in self-defense. She testified today that the morning after Mother's Day, she and her husband got into what she termed "the grand finale of all fights." She said her husband became angry when he found out she had bought a condo and was planning on leaving him..

"He's angry because he said he wasted his life with me," Seaman explained. "He said, 'Why can't you just die? I don't love you anymore.' He kicked me. He kicked me in the leg."

She then demonstrated to the court how she lay in the garage trying to protect herself, with her hands covering her face. She said her husband would not let go of her leg, so she picked up the hatchet and hit him.

"I kept swinging it and I kept swinging it and I kept swinging it ... I was terrified," she told the court. "I was absolutely terrified. All I knew was that I had to stop him."

Seaman said it was then that she used the kitchen knife to stab her husband, but she doesn't remember doing it.

With her husband's lifeless body in the garage, Seaman left for work at Longacre Elementary, but came back during lunch.

"There was blood everywhere," Seaman told the court, breaking down. "I kept saying, 'Bob, why did you do this to me? Why did you do this to me? Why?' For 30 years, 30 years! And I was going to be safe in just a couple weeks. A couple weeks! It was just a couple weeks longer."

Seaman said she went out to buy cleaning supplies and bleach so that she could clean up the scene before her son could see what happened in the garage. She added that prior to her arrest she was planning to turn herself in, but she wanted to do it on her own terms.

On Monday, Seaman told the jury that for the first 21 years of her marriage, her husband abused her sporadically. She recalled one incident after another when she claims her husband got out of hand, but she admitted she didn't confide in anyone about what she said she was suffering.

"I was ashamed. I'd only been married a few months," she said. "My God, that's supposed to be the best part of your marriage, is the early part."

She told the jury her husband was a man with two sides, a man she says she was getting ready to leave for good.

"He had like two personalities. He was very charming. He was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," she testified. "He was very charming, and that's the Bob I fell in love with. But there was this other side, and it was always true that he had a short fuse and a bad temper."

Talking about the days following her arrest, she said: "I wish he would have killed me."

Seaman described a pattern of physical abuse.

"Bob would shove. That's what he liked to do, shove and push against walls," she said. "Most of my bruisings were either that he would grab me by an article of clothing or an arm. He would squeeze my arm and push me against the wall. Sometimes I'd get knocked down."

She said she did call the police once, years ago, after her husband physically abused her in Missouri. She said he didn't end up in jail and he threatened to kill her if she called the police again.

Prosecutors contend that whatever her husband might have done, Seaman planned the murder and did not truly act in self-defense.

"Bob Seaman died a gruesome death," Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Lisa Ortlieb said during opening statements. "The defendant had time to think about what she was doing. ... She chose to be a killer."

Defense attorneys say years of abuse drove Seaman to do it, but her two sons gave conflicting testimony about their parents' relationship. Ortlieb, the lead prosecutor in the case, also heads the head of the county's Domestic Violence Unit, and she maintains Seaman was not a victim of domestic violence.

On Friday, Seaman was brought to tears as her youngest son, Greg, testified that his father abused her, primarily mentally, but also physically on occasion. Seaman wept as she listened to her son tell the jury she lived in fear of her husband.

"He would constantly belittle my mother, her profession, all the choices that she made," Greg Seaman said. "On a couple different occasions I saw him hit her with his forearm, just kind of shove her out of the way.

"There was a time when her hand was smashed up pretty good, and it was wrapped up, and I asked her what happened," Greg Seaman testified. "She told me, 'It was your father. He threw a chair.' ... He had a reputation for being kind of a wild, violent brawler."

Earlier in the week, though, Seaman's older son, Jeff, testified for the prosecution, telling jurors that he never saw signs that his mother was abused. He did, however, say that his parents had argued a lot in the time leading up to the killing. Jeff Seaman also described his father as his best friend.

Another key piece in the prosecution's case was surveillance video from a Home Depot, where Seaman bought the hatchet.

Seaman sat quietly as the jury watched the surveillance video of her buying a hatchet on May 9, which she then allegedly took home and used to murder her husband.

Two days after the murder, prosecutors said, Seaman went back to Home Depot, shoplifted another hatchet, and returned it with the receipt from the hatchet she bought the day of the killing.

ABC News affiliate WXYZ-TV in Detroit contributed to this report.

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