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Trice says he had to shoot

(ran T, ET editions of National)

A cool and composed Charles L. Trice Jr. took the witness stand Monday and told a jury he had no choice but to shoot his wife.

"It was either me die or her," said the former state trooper.

The 41-year-old Trice spent much of the day talking about his marriage, trying to explain chilling reports of his behavior and, most important, telling his version of what happened in the couple's Plant City home the night of April 24, 1994.

Darla Trice, who had a domestic violence injunction against her husband and had filed for divorce, died from a single gunshot to the chest. Last week, a string of friends and acquaintances testified that Darla Trice said she was terrified her husband would make good on threats to kill her and make it look like self-defense.

Charles Trice told his story Monday in the level tones of a law enforcement officer well-acquainted with the witness stand. He said he brought the couple's daughter home from weekend visitation that evening and went to an office at the back of the house _ the only room the restraining order allowed him to enter.

Weeks earlier, Trice had taken his wife's Corvette by picking it up from the repair shop where she had left it. In the office that night, he said, she asked if he was going to give it back.

Trice said that when he told her, "Not right now," she left. He said he was inside a small closet when he heard her behind him.

"I just saw her hand coming at me," he said. He said she stabbed him, saying that "I wasn't going to do this to her, (that) she should have done this a long time ago."

Trice said he felt faint and went down on one or both knees. He grabbed his loaded .357-caliber revolver off a shelf. He said he thought she would back off if she saw it.

"I just pulled the gun like this," he said, demonstrating, "and fired it."

On cross-examination, Trice was asked if he aimed his gun.

"It was pointed at an object that was coming toward me which happened to be my wife," he said.

Prosecutors have emphasized that Trice, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper for 14 years, did nothing to help his wife as she lay bleeding and dying on the floor during his 7{ minute 911 call.

Trice said he checked her pulse and "she looked like she was breathing all right." Though he had been trained to apply pressure to his own injury, he did not touch his wife's wound.

"The only thing I could think of to do was just get some help," he said.

Darla Trice was pronounced dead soon after rescue workers arrived. The cut to her husband's upper left chest was not serious.

Charles Trice denied that when he returned to the bloody crime scene the next day with his friend, Trooper John Kenneth Lane, he said, "She sure made a mess in here, didn't she?"

He testified that he said, "They made a mess," referring to the detectives who had worked the scene.

He also denied that he wondered aloud to Lane whether he should get a pressure washer.

Though a Highway Patrol clerk testified that days before the shooting, Charles Trice had said coldly, "I ought to just go kill her," the defendant testified he said that his taking the Corvette was "just killing" his wife.

Charles Trice also said he didn't remember saying "It's finally over" and smiling at a waitress he knew at his wife's funeral.

He denied ever threatening to kill his wife.

"I had no reason to do that," he said.

Trice inadvertently opened a door for the prosecution in his testimony. He said that before the Dec. 8 argument that led to his wife getting a restraining order, theirs had been "pretty much" a happy marriage.

Prosecutors, who had been mostly restricted to testimony about what Mrs. Trice said after Dec. 8, may now present testimony about earlier events. Neighbors and friends have said Darla Trice said her husband was intensely jealous and would even time her trips to the grocery store.

Attorneys are expected to deliver their closing arguments today.

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