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Ex-wife admits murder to avoid death sentence

Published Sep. 9, 2005

As she admitted crimes Friday that will keep her in prison for the rest of her life, Katherine Freeman, 42, sounded remarkably calm.

She answered Circuit Judge William Fuente in short, certain sentences as he asked whether she understood what she was doing.

"Yes, sir," she said.

Freeman's decision to plead guilty Friday to murdering her ex-husband, successful lawyer Grover Cleveland Freeman Jr., and attempting to kill his wife, Connie Freeman, came down to a calculation for the former stockbroker.

By admitting guilt, she escaped a possible death sentence.

The decision was a turnaround for Freeman, who attempted suicide last May after shooting her ex-husband and choking his wife in their lakefront Carrollwood home. She drove her 1999 Cadillac to the Sunshine Skyway bridge, removed her diamond earrings, and jumped. Amazingly, she survived.

While Katherine Freeman will live out her life in prison, Connie Freeman, who survived the attack that night, has had ovarian cancer diagnosed. In court Friday, Connie Freeman, 51, stood a few feet from Katherine Freeman and addressed the court.

"I am pleased that Katherine Freeman has come forward to accept her responsibility for her crime and has accepted the serious consequences of her crime," she said.

She expressed no bitterness and afterward, speaking to reporters, she said she did not object to the deal that allowed Katherine Freeman to escape death row.

"I feel this sentence was just," she said. "I will be able to go on with my life, and I know that is what Grover would have wanted."

In court, prosecutor Jay Pruner described how Katherine Freeman killed her 54-year-old ex-husband for money. She owed about $71,000 to credit card companies and was borrowing money from one credit card to buy overdraft protection to pay other credit card bills, Pruner said.

She had tapped out a $30,000 revolving line of credit against her mortgage and was borrowing money to buy stocks and then betting the stocks would turn a profit. Her alimony payments from her 10-year marriage had ended, and her only steady income was child support of $1,450 a month, court records showed.

Despite her debts, Freeman continued to live a lavish lifestyle, Pruner said, taking vacations to Europe, Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco.

Her solution? Kill her ex-husband and his wife, Pruner said. If they died, Grover Freeman's will left Freeman's daughter, then 14, a fortune, including his $472,000 house in Carrollwood.

Prosecutors said Freeman bought a 9mm handgun in Georgia, then slipped into her ex-husband's house late the night of May 15, 2000. As Grover Freeman lay in bed, Katherine fired at him 16 times. Connie Freeman listened from the bedroom as her husband cried out in pain.

"You're next, b----!" Katherine Freeman said.

She then struck Connie Freeman with her pistol, which had jammed, and dragged her by the hair to the balcony of the two-story house, where she tried to throw her over the railing. Connie Freeman managed to break free and run from the house, seeking refuge from a neighbor.

Her husband managed to dial 911. "Help . . . shot . . . ex-wife," he said.

Katherine Freeman fidgeted slightly Friday as the prosecutor described the night.

Sheriff's detectives recently interviewed Freeman about the 1983 shooting of 30-year-old Ronald Heinlein, who was Freeman's boyfriend at the time, according to Alan Evans, a photojournalist for NBC News in Atlanta and one of Grover Freeman's close friends. The killing never was solved.

A sheriff's spokeswoman declined to confirm Friday whether Katherine Freeman was a suspect in the 1983 shooting.

The Public Defender's Office represented Freeman at taxpayers' expense even though Judge Fuente found recently that Freeman did not qualify as an indigent. She had earned $74,000 in November from the sale of her Carrollwood house. It was too late in the case, however, to force Freeman to change lawyers, the judge said.

In one final move Friday, Fuente placed a lien on Freeman's assets, saying he would force her to reimburse taxpayers for the public defender's services. Her lawyer estimated the office's staff had spent more than 400 hours on Freeman's case and incurred $25,000 in costs.

Katherine and Grover Cleveland's daughter, now 15, is living with one of Katherine Freeman's friends.

_ Times staff writer David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or