NEW PORT RICHEY — When Linda Callam drove a knife into Paul Pullins' chest almost two years ago, her attorney said, it was a deadly but legal act of self-defense.
During Callam's trial this week on a charge of second-degree murder, the defense portrayed her as a long-abused woman who acted out of fear.
"She did the only thing she could do to protect herself by picking up that knife," assistant public defender Dean Livermore told the jury in his closing argument Thursday.
The panel agreed, finding Callam, 58, not guilty. She could have faced life in prison if convicted.
Callam cried as the verdict was read.
Callam had testified that she and Pullins, a couple for 23 years, began drinking and using cocaine from the time they woke up in their mobile home in Moon Lake on March 29, 2007. And they argued, as they often did, over money.
Sometime that evening, in the kitchen, Callam stabbed Pullins, 51, in the chest. He died that night in a hospital emergency room.
Prosecutors called the knifing unprovoked.
The state's key witness was Corey Burleigh, who lived with Callam and Pullins on weekends, and was partying with them the day of the stabbing.
He testified that Pullins was yelling at him about the cocaine he recently bought when Callam appeared from down the hall and drove the knife into Pullins' chest.
"I was there when this happened," Burleigh said after the verdict. "This was not a case of abuse."
But in her testimony Wednesday, Callam described the years of abuse she suffered at Pullins' hands: broken fingers, a bashed face.
In the moments before the stabbing, she testified, Pullins was in a rage over being ripped off in a cocaine deal. He threw her down the steps of their mobile home and flung her into the kitchen counter.
Seeing a crazed look in his eye, she turned, she said, and grabbed the knife.
"I just wanted him to stop. I didn't want to kill him," she said.
Jurors heard from other witnesses who corroborated the portrait of Callam as an abused woman. Her son said he picked her up from Pullins' home more than once when he threatened her. People she worked with on construction jobs said she covered up her injuries with long-sleeved shirts, even in the summer.
Assistant State Attorney James Goodnow argued that whatever violence Pullins inflicted in the past did not justify killing him.
"He did not deserve to die that day," Goodnow said.
And he reminded jurors of a statement Callam had made to a sheriff's detective. Two weeks before the killing, she told the detective, Pullins had kicked her in the chest. She vowed to kill him if he ever harmed her again.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.