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EMS worker details death

She was a professional, trained to save people.

Still, what volunteer Fire Capt. Rhonda Walker saw that night was enough to bring tears to her eyes as she sat in the jury box Friday, remembering.

She and her husband, also a rescue worker, got the call at 6:54 the night of April 24, 1994. When they arrived at the big brick house in Plant City, Charles Trice came out of the garage.

"Rhonda," he said, "save my wife."

She ran to the office. There was Darla Trice, shot through the chest, lying on her back and barely breathing.

"She was alive," Walker said Friday.

Walker was the first witness for the defense Friday in the trial of Charles Trice, a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper charged with murdering his wife. Previously, prosecutors had presented witness after witness who said Mrs. Trice lived in fear of the husband she was trying to divorce, and that she said he told her he would kill her and get away with it.

Trice, 41, told investigators he had to shoot his wife in self-defense because she attacked him with a paring knife. Authorities believe Trice stabbed himself.

Mrs. Trice, 26, had a domestic violence restraining order against her husband, although a judge allowed him to use an office in the back of the house. She died on the floor of that office from a single shot from Trice's .357-caliber revolver.

Defense lawyers put Walker on the stand to emphasize the fact that Mrs. Trice was still alive when rescue workers arrived. But Walker also gave some potentially devastating testimony against Trice, whom she knew because he once had been a volunteer firefighter.

"The minute you walked in the room and saw Darla Trice's condition, you knew she was going to die," prosecutor Karen Cox said in cross-examination.

"Yes, I did," Walker said.

Mrs. Trice had no pulse except her carotid pulse, which is the last to go, Walker said. The Walkers began CPR, but without any real hope, she said.

There was no evidence that Trice had made any effort to try to stop his wife's bleeding from the gunshot wound to her chest _ and by the time the Walkers arrived, "the bleeding wasn't continuing," she said.

Testimony earlier in the week emphasized that Trice had not done anything to aid his wife, even as he stayed on the telephone with a 911 operator for 7{ minutes. The first deputy on the scene immediately went for his first aid kit to try to stop her bleeding.

Trice is expected to take the stand Monday. Much of the defense case rests on his testimony.

Earlier Friday, a highway patrol clerk testified for the state about a haunting comment she said Trice made in the week before he shot his wife.

Trice was at the Lakeland office picking up some supplies and talking about his divorce when he got a page on his beeper, supply clerk Mary Roundtree said. He made a phone call, then hung up.

"He looked me right in the eye, cold as a rock, and said, "I ought to just go kill her,' " Roundtree said.

The prosecutor asked if Trice might have been joking.

"No sir," Roundtree said. "He was dead ice cold."

During a vigorous cross-examination, Roundtree acknowledged that even though the comment bothered her, she did not report it for weeks. But she was steadfast about what she heard.

"I'll never forget the way he said that," she said.

Defense attorneys also called to the stand a Ferman Chevrolet employee who said that during the divorce, Mrs. Trice came to the dealership after Trice had dropped off their Corvette for repairs and became very upset when employees wouldn't let her pick up the car.

On an earlier date, Mrs. Trice had taken the Corvette there herself, and her estranged husband had picked the car up without her knowledge. Mrs. Trice thought the dealership, which services troopers' cars, was playing favorites because Trice was a trooper, according to testimony.

Defense attorneys described the Corvette as a "flash point" in the marriage. Trice told investigators that his wife asked him for the car before she stabbed him.

The case is expected to be in the hands of the six-man, six-woman jury by Wednesday.