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Wife denies she killed

Fighting to control sobs and fend off attacks on her credibility, Joyce Hernandez took the stand Thursday and denied killing her husband.

"Did you cold-bloodedly go up and shoot your husband?" asked her lawyer, Arthur Eggers.

"No, sir."

"Did you participate with anyone else in shooting your husband?"

"No, I did not."

"Is there anyone you're attempting to protect at the risk of losing the two most important things in your life?" Eggers asked, referring to her children.

"No, sir."

Mrs. Hernandez's words capped a dramatic fourth day of her trial. She is charged with first-degree murder in the 1992 shooting death of her husband, Ronnie Hernandez, 32.

The case is expected to go to the jury today.

Proceedings on Thursday included stern words from the judge to Assistant State Attorney Donald Scaglione and a sharp exchange between Scaglione and Mrs. Hernandez.

The day started with a three-hour videotape of detectives trying to extract a confession from Mrs. Hernandez several days after her husband's body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car at the Weeki Wachee Holiday Inn.

"You're torn up because you're being eaten up with something," Detective Carlos Douglas told Mrs. Hernandez in a secretly taped interview at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

"You need to get it off your chest," he said.

Detective Tom Holley told Mrs. Hernandez blood stains had been found on the kitchen floor of her Spring Hill house.

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God," she said.

"How did this blood get there?" Holley asked.

She was crying hard and didn't answer.

"We want to know how it got there," Holley said.

"I want to know how it got there, too," she said.

As detectives pressed for answers, Mrs. Hernandez went into hysterics, moaning and crying and shrieking. "I don't know! I don't know! I don't know! Jesus Christ!" she said.

Later in the taped interview, Douglas told her that detectives had found a pair of her sneakers in the trash with red specks on them. "We're going to send them to the lab, and if (test results) come back with blood, you're going to have some explaining to do," he said.

Send them, she said.

At one point, she became so distraught she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Holley's neck in a desperate hug. The detective carefully disengaged her hands and told her to calm down.

Finally, the detectives gave up. "I'm going to find out who killed your husband, one way or the other," Douglas told her.

Douglas was in the courtroom Thursday. He gave testimony before and after the videotape.

One set of responses brought angry words Circuit Judge Jack Springstead.

Scaglione, the prosecutor, was trying to suggest that the execution-style shooting of Mr. Hernandez would have been unusual for a drug-related killing, which is an explanation that has been proposed by the defense.

As Scaglione was trying to get Douglas to say the killing style had been unusual, the judge interrupted and sent both the jury and Douglas out of the courtroom.

The judge said it seemed that Scaglione was trying to suggest that drug-related shootings do not occur in the county. Such an assertion would be false, Springstead said, mentioning several recent well-known cases. "For this witness to give the impression that that type of activity is not going on in this county is not going to happen in this courtroom," Springstead said.

"I'm somewhat surprised the witness would testify to that effect," he said.

Scaglione said he had simply tried to suggest the way Mr. Hernandez was killed was atypical for drug-related slayings.

The judge was unmoved. When the jury was brought back, Scaglione settled the issue by asking Douglas about some other well-known cases and by clarifying what he meant by his line of questioning.

Jurors could well have been confused.

They had not heard Springstead's original complaints. And they returned from their brief break to hear Douglas answering a series of questions about unrelated murder cases that had not been mentioned earlier.

The day grew more interesting in the afternoon.

Mrs. Hernandez, 26, took the stand looking somber and small in a conservative, cream-color outfit. She started crying almost immediately as a home videotape was shown to illustrate the interior layout of the house. Hernandez was in the tape, as was one of the couple's young sons.

She tried to explain why she invited a lover, Dennis Monahan, into her house the day after her husband disappeared.

Prosecutors have said that audacity shows she knew her husband was dead and wouldn't come home. Not so, she said.

"I didn't want to be alone, and I liked Dennis," she said. "I was lonely."

She also sniped at Monahan, who testified Wednesday he was nervous about having sex with her while her husband was unaccounted for.

"He didn't seem as worried as he said he was," Mrs. Hernandez said wryly. "He quickly dropped his pants."

When Scaglione implied that she profited from the death by winning freedom from an unhappy marriage, she retorted, "That's very mean to say."

Closing arguments are expected this morning, followed by jury deliberations.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. It has become clear during the trial that they are not accusing Mrs. Hernandez of pulling the trigger and that perhaps they do not know who did.

But it remains unclear whether there are other suspects.

No other arrests have been made.