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Tamra Leasure testifies in Tampa murder trial that she was fighting for her life

Tamra Leasure describes the second of third shots she fired in quick succession, killing Arthur Tilley in 2009 in her home. Leasure is on trial for second-degree murder.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Tamra Leasure describes the second of third shots she fired in quick succession, killing Arthur Tilley in 2009 in her home. Leasure is on trial for second-degree murder.

TAMPA — The way Tamra Leasure sees it, her house guest got too cozy when he started calling her Riverview home "our house."

They had known each other just two months, Leasure and her friend Arthur Tilley, but the argument the night of March 5, 2009, quickly escalated from "this isn't 'our' house" to a fight about jealousy, control and marriage.

It ended with Leasure killing Tilley with three gunshots.

"All I know is he had those crazy eyes," Leasure, 45, testified Wednesday in her trial on a second-degree murder charge.

Prosecutors say stripping away the lies from her changing story will show she wasn't acting in self-defense. Among them: Leasure initially told investigators it was Tilley's gun and that he shot himself in the head before she took the gun from him.

Leasure testified Wednesday in Hillsborough County court that she was standing her ground.

"Why, why would I do that," Leasure asked jurors, "unless he was going to kill me?"

On the second day of testimonies, jurors learned more about the complicated relationship Leasure said never went beyond a peck-on-the-cheek friendship.

Leasure met Tilley in Orlando two months before the shooting. On the first day they knew each other, Tilley gave her a ring to wear on her thumb.

They stayed in the same hotel suite, talking all night.

But they parted ways the next morning when Tilley, 57, of Maine bit a waitress on the shoulder at the hotel restaurant.

He was drunk and was arrested, subsequently charged with battery of a law enforcement officer.

From there, Tilley and Leasure spoke on the phone four or five times a week. He sent her a Valentine's Day gift: pink shoes with flowers in them.

Tilley, who was an alcoholic, visited Tampa a month later, alternating staying at Leasure's house and an airport hotel.

"He wanted to marry her," Leasure's daughter, Raquel Pauley, 16, testified Wednesday. "He was getting really possessive and trying to control our family."

He woke up Raquel the night before the shooting, she said, demanding names of nearby hospitals and jails when Leasure didn't come home.

Leasure had spent the night with a boyfriend, but told Tilley her car broke down.

The next morning, Leasure said, Tilley held a plastic bag over his head, saying he would end his misery over her.

Later that evening, Leasure woke up from a nap to a phone call from one of the hospitals Tilley had checked.

She went to ask Tilley about it, who said he was cleaning "their" house. They were wearing matching blue manatee pajama pants — by coincidence, Leasure said.

He was drunk again. He wanted to know where she had been and started yelling about marrying her, she said.

"Stay away from me," Leasure said. And later, "Get out!"

He shoved her. Pointed at her bed and said it would be their bed. Told her when her daughter came home, she'd find them in body bags, she said.

"He had nothing to live for," Leasure testified.

She ran for her gun: a .38-caliber revolver tucked under her mattress. When he wrestled with her for the gun, Leasure fired a grazing shot to his head, she said.

"I knew if he got that gun, he'd kill me," she said. He came at her, which she later described as flailing his arms.

"I backed up some and just went, bam bam!" she said.

Leasure tearfully recounted this for the jurors, words pouring wildly out of her mouth between tears and gasps.

But then the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office began its cross-examination:

Tilley scared Leasure, but she left her then-14-year-old daughter alone with him overnight.

He scared her, but she could escape to get her gun.

He scared her, but he didn't pick up a knife on the kitchen counter during the fight.

Closing arguments begin this morning.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Tamra Leasure testifies in Tampa murder trial that she was fighting for her life 02/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 7:11am]
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