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Martha Ann FREEMAN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Love triangle - Her lover, an illegal Mexican immigrant, was living in her closet
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 10, 2005
Date of arrest: August 22, 2005
Date of birth: December 6, 1964
Victim profile: Jeffrey Freeman, 44 (her husband)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Brentwood, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on September 28, 2006
 
 
 
 

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee

State of Tennessee v. Martha Ann Freeman
 
 
 
 

Pair guilty of killing wife's mate

Jury finds they beat, bound, strangled him

Tennessean.com

Sept. 29, 2006

It took Martha Freeman more than 16 hours to report her husband was lying dead in their upstairs bathroom. But a jury needed fewer than two hours to convict her and her former lover of the murder of Freeman's husband, Brentwood businessman Jeffrey Freeman.

The Nashville jury found Martha Freeman and Rafael DeJesus Rocha-Perez -- the lover that she said lived in her closet for a month -- guilty Thursday of first-degree murder after prosecutors revealed new, more gruesome details about the April 10, 2005, murder in closing arguments.

Martha Freeman, 41, held her hands in her face after the verdict was read. Rocha-Perez, 36, showed no emotion.

Tears pooled in Freeman's eyes when Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Randall Wyatt sentenced the pair to life in prison, which was automatic because they were convicted of first-degree murder. They will both have to serve 51 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

"Now Jeffrey can rest," said Frank Slaughter Jr., a Bristol, Tenn., lawyer who represents Jeffrey Freeman's elderly parents in a wrongful-death suit against Martha Freeman and Rocha-Perez and other litigation against the widow.

Jeffrey Freeman's wet body was found partially stuffed in a sleeping bag with a black trash bag wrapped around his face. A medical examiner testified that the 44-year-old man was beaten in the head and face, bound and strangled.

During the trial, Martha Freeman's attorney's maintained that it was her former lover who killed her husband. They said the wife, who was taking a number of narcotics along with pills to treat mental illness, was guilty only of adultery and waiting to call police.

Her attorneys were not available for comment after the verdict.

In the meantime, one of Rocha-Perez's attorneys said lawyers would ask for a new trial.

Rocha-Perez is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who does not speak English, and at the beginning of the trial his attorneys asked jurors not to hold that against him.

The lawyer was asked if he thought that status played a role in the verdict.

"I hope not," said Peter Strianse. "I mean they said all the right things on Monday and Tuesday when we were selecting the jury, that they could set that aside. I thought it was important to the jury to know of his status so there was some explanation on why he fled." Rocha-Perez was found hiding in the rafters at a house near the Freemans' 5424 Incline Drive home when police arrived.

Strianse and Nashville attorney Anna Escobar took on Rocha-Perez's case after a group of Hispanic bricklayers who worked with the defendant pooled their money.

The attorney said he thought the state didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his client killed Jeffrey Freeman.

But a prosecutor said in closing arguments Thursday that there was no doubt that the man and woman worked it out together.

Senior Assistant District Attorney General Katy Miller said Jeffrey Freeman never struggled because he was subdued by the threat of a shotgun blast. It was Rocha-Perez who beat the husband and had the strength to strangle a 231-pound man, she told the jury. But it would have taken both him and the wife to move the body. Freeman was pulled out of a bathtub full of water, and the wife called her mother-in-law that evening and called her husband's workplace the next day to report him sick, Miller said.

Yesterday, prosecutors said that despite earlier observations made by a detective, they believed that Rocha-Perez did live in the woman's 2-foot-by-8-foot closet off the bedroom she slept in separately from her husband.

 
 

Wife, closeted lover guilty of husband's murder

By Emanuella Grinberg - CNN.com

September 29, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Court TV ) -- A jury took less than two hours Thursday to convict a woman and the lover she was hiding in her closet of first-degree murder for beating and strangling her husband.

Martha Freeman, 41, bowed her head at the defense table as the jury foreman read aloud the verdict for the death of her husband, Jeffrey Freeman, whose body was discovered in the bathroom of their home on April 11, 2005.

Co-defendant Rafael Rocha-Perez remained stoic even as Judge Randall Wyatt handed down mandatory life sentences for their roles in the 44-year-old victim's death.

Davidson County prosecutors said the speed of the verdict reaffirmed the strength of their case, which defense attorneys criticized for its lack of direct evidence.

"This verdict is a rejection of the defense attacks on the police and on an innocent man who died in an awfully brutal manner," said deputy assistant attorney general Tom Thurman.

Prosecutors conceded in closing arguments Thursday that they could not pin down the exact time Jeffrey Freeman died or the specific role either defendant played in his death.

Even so, they insisted that evidence of a relationship between Martha Freeman and Rocha-Perez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, coupled with their behavior after the murder, proved their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It's very easy to think of the steps up to committing a crime, but it's very difficult to think about what to do after committing the offense," Davidson County prosecutor J. W. Hupp told the panel of eight women and four men Thursday afternoon.

Wrapped victim in garbage bag

The night after her husband was killed, Martha Freeman picked up an antidepressant prescription at a Walgreen's drug store and called her in-laws to tell them their son was too sick to talk.

While Jeffrey Freeman's body lay in the bathroom with a garbage bag wrapped around his bruised and bloodied head for nearly a day, Hupp said, the defendants cleaned up the crime scene and eliminated any blood or fingerprint evidence that would link them to his body.

Even so, they left behind two garbage bags filled with wet bath mats and a bloody pillowcase, none of which was tested for trace evidence, a detective testified Thursday morning.

Police also found a foam mattress, a Spanish-English translator and clothing with Rocha-Perez's DNA in a closet in a spare bedroom of the home. They found a bag containing nude pictures of Rocha-Perez, lingerie and a book of sexual positions.

The pair also left behind a towel containing both of their DNA.

"Maybe they were lying on their towel having sex when Jeffrey Freeman came in and caught them in the act," Hupp said. "Or maybe the sex on the towel was to celebrate the fact they murdered Jeffrey."

Martha Freeman's defense attorney Rich McGee labeled the suggestion yet another "nasty" and "inflammatory" theory in a case scarce on evidence.

"Every one of you is the judge of the facts in this case," McGee said. "When you start talking theories and not facts, you're asking someone to make a decision based on guesses."

Defense: Adultery not a crime

McGee said his client never denied her affair with Rocha-Perez, but reminded the jury that Freeman was not on trial for adultery.

"If Martha Freeman was on trial for immoral conduct, this would be a pretty open-and-shut case, but an affair doesn't lead to a murder conviction," McGee said.

A lawyer for Rocha-Perez, who characterized his client as an easy and "disposable" target for the investigation because of his immigration status, expressed his surprise with the verdict.

"As far as who killed Jeffrey Freeman, I don't think that was ever answered," said Peter Strianse, who said he was hired by Rocha-Perez's fellow immigrant bricklayers. "I think they could have done much more to establish where people were in the relevant time period."

Relatives of Jeffrey Freeman clutched hands and smiled as the verdicts were rendered, but did not linger after the proceedings finished.

"This is a new day for the Freeman family," said attorney Frank Slaughter, who is representing the parents of Jeffrey Freeman in battles over his estate. "The jury's verdict today is a validation of Jeffrey Freeman's life."

 
 

Prosecutor: Woman and her lover plotted husband's vicious murder while living in his house

By Emanuella Grinberg - CNN.com

September 26, 2006

When Martha Freeman moved back into the home of her estranged husband in February 2005, she didn't return home alone.

Instead, she secretly brought Rafael Rocha-Perez, her lover and the man who would ultimately kill her husband with her assistance, a Nashville prosecutor said in the pair's murder trial Tuesday.

"The evidence will show you she had Mr. Perez there secluded away in another bedroom," Davidson County prosecutor Katy Miller told jurors in her opening statement. "It took two people to orchestrate this, and it will be clearly shown that those two people were Martha Freeman and Mr. Rocha-Perez."

Miller promised the panel that DNA and fingerprint evidence would prove that no one but the defendants could have brutally beaten and strangled Jeffrey Freeman in the Freemans' upscale south Nashville home.

She also said other evidence, including clothing, food and a Spanish-English dictionary that were found in a spare bedroom, would also prove that Rocha-Perez stayed in the home.

If convicted of first-degree murder, both defendants face life in prison.

Although Martha Freeman's lawyer acknowledged that she kept her lover hidden in a closet, he denied that she encouraged or participated in the violent death of her husband of 10 years.

"Two men fought over one woman, and one man died," defense lawyer Glenn Funk said in his opening statement Tuesday. "We will not hear any evidence. We will not hear from any witnesses who will testify that Martha Freeman ever intended for her affair with Mr. Rocha-Perez to lead to her husband's death."

Funk conceded that his client kept her husband's dead body in the upstairs bathroom for almost a day before notifying police, but he insisted that her decision to do so showed a lack of involvement.

"She did not hide the body, she did not flee, she did not help Rocha-Pere z flee," Funk told jurors. "She does in fact delay making her own decision, but she never does anything to assist Mr. Rocha-Perez."

A lawyer for Rocha-Perez also acknowledged the bizarre living situation, but denied that his client was responsible for Jeffrey Freeman's death.

Instead, he suggested that Martha Freeman might have set up his client for the gruesome murder.

"Maybe she needed a chump," said defense lawyer Peter Strianse as both defendants sat emotionless at the same table, separated by a lawyer. "Who better to blame it on than somebody who is here illegally, somebody who is truly a stranger in a strange land, someone, who, by virtue of his immigration status, once arrested, is not going to get out of jail?"

The state will call its first witness Tuesday afternoon. The trial is expected to last three days.

 
 

She had dead spouse in the bathroom, lover in the closet

By Emanuella Grinberg - CNN.com

September 22, 2006

Almost 16 hours after Martha Freeman's husband was strangled and beaten to death in the couple's upscale south Nashville home, she finally reported his death to police.

If her decision to wait was puzzling, so was the explanation she gave police.

Freeman claimed her lover, an illegal Mexican immigrant who was living in her closet, killed her husband.

She said Jeffrey Freeman had discovered him.

But prosecutors dispute Martha Freeman's version of the events that led to her husband's April 2005 slaying. They are expected to outline their theory during opening statements in the 41-year-old widow's upcoming murder trial.

Freeman and 36-year-old Rahael Rocha-Perez, her former lover, each are charged with first-degree murder in the husband's violent bludgeoning. If convicted, they face life in prison.

When police responded to the 911 call that Freeman asked a neighbor to make, they found the body of Jeffrey Freeman, 44, lying face-down in the master bathroom.

His head, which had sustained multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, was wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag and the rest of his body in a sleeping bag. A medical examiner's preliminary examination also detected possible ligature marks around his neck.

The rest of the home appeared to be undisturbed, police said. One notable exception: Several black garbage bags were found containing wet bath mats, towels, a pillow case with apparent bloodstains and wads of torn telephone cord.

Closet hideaway found

Metro Nashville Police Department detectives also found the closet that Martha Freeman claimed her lover lived in for about a month before her husband's death.

The 2-by-8-foot storage space contained a foam pad, pillows, blankets, three loaves of bread, a Nintendo GameBoy, a radio, and several adult magazines.

Investigators also found an "overnight bag," which contained lingerie and pictures of Martha Freeman in various stages of undress.

Martha Freeman was seemingly forthcoming with authorities about her relationship with Perez, whom she referred to as "Christian," and his alleged role in her husband's death sometime after 9 p.m. that evening.

Initially, only Perez was charged with Jeffrey Freeman's murder.

Martha Freeman was a witness at his preliminary hearing, providing detailed information about their relationship and the night her husband was killed.

Freeman said she met Perez at a July 4 celebration in 2004 during a rocky period in her marriage. The two went to a hotel in downtown Nashville with two of his friends, and she admitted to having "intimate" relations with the three men.

From there, the lovers conducted an on-and-off relationship with the aid of an English-Spanish translator. Perez moved into a closet in the Freeman home in March 2005.

Husband discovers couple

On the night of April 10, 2005, Freeman testified, both she and Perez were asleep in the room she maintained separately from her husband. Jeffrey Freeman discovered Perez and told him to leave.

According to Martha Freeman, her husband of 10 years then went to walk the dogs. When he returned, Perez grabbed him by the shirt collar and forced him into the bathroom at gunpoint while Martha Freeman waited outside.

"I heard water running, I heard a lot of thumping, a lot of noise," she testified at the hearing in 2005. "I was absolutely terrified of what was going on and also, if he could have done this to my husband, I'm not sure what he was going to do to me."

When asked why she didn't immediately call police, Freeman admitted she didn't "have an answer," and attributed it to the medication she was taking for bipolar disorder.

During the 16 hours before the 911 call, Freeman said she went to Walgreens to pick up a prescription for antidepressants and walked her dog twice.

She said she also called her in-laws and told them their son would not be able to talk to them, as was his common practice, because he was not feeling well.

Finally, around 4 p.m. the next day, she went to a neighbor's home and told her what had happened. The neighbor called police.

Judge disbelieves her testimony

Freeman's testimony in the preliminary hearing came to an abrupt halt, however, when the judge said he didn't believe her.

"I've got a problem with allowing this to go any further without allowing her some representation because I can see her being charged in this case," Judge Casey Moreland told lawyers. "This is so bizarre, it is hard to believe."

Four months later, in August 2005, a grand jury indicted her on one count of first-degree murder. She has been out on $75,000 bail since August 2005. Her former lover remains in custody.

Since her indictment, prosecutors have been tight-lipped about their theory about the crime. But in 2006, an investigator told the The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper, that he believed much of the crime scene had been staged, including the supposed scenario of the closet lover.

Attorneys for the defendants did not return calls, but in 2006, a lawyer for Perez insisted he was innocent and suggested that Martha Freeman's involvement in the slaying was greater than she let on.

"He has always maintained his innocence, and no disrespect to Mrs. Freeman, but her credibility, her reliability, her mental stability will seriously be in question at a trial of this case," attorney Peter Strianse told the Tennessean.

Perez did not make any statements to police following his arrest.

Jury selection begins Monday afternoon in Davidson County Circuit Court.

 
 

Woman who hid lover in closet is charged in husband's death

Wife ran errands while spouse lay dead in the bathtub, police say

Tennessean.com

August 24, 2005

Four months after testifying that she listened from the next room as her lover beat and choked her husband to death, Brentwood private investigator Martha Freeman was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with his death.

The case drew nationwide media attention amid allegations that Freeman's lover had been living in her walk-in closet for a month before police said he killed the woman's husband, Jeffrey Freeman.

Police added few new details about the case yesterday, saying only that Martha Freeman ran errands the morning after the killing, while her 44-year-old husband lay dead in a bathtub. Police refused to say what type of errands she was running, only that she was gone for some time.

"Despite the beating to her husband, we did learn that she left the residence, apparently by herself, the following day to run errands, and it was later on that day in the midafternoon hours that the Police Department was contacted," Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said yesterday.

Martha Freeman, 40, surrendered to police Monday afternoon after being indicted by a Davidson County grand jury. She was released later that day on $75,000 bail. Her lawyer, Nashville attorney Rich McGee, declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Freeman's boyfriend, Rafael DeJesus Rocha-Perez, 35, was arrested on April 10, the day of the killing, when a neighbor called to report a suspicious man running into a nearby house that was still under construction. He remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail.

His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Before the murder, Martha Freeman had likened her life in an upscale south Nashville neighborhood to that on Wisteria Lane, the fictional street on ABC's popular show Desperate Housewives. The show features the troubled lives of suburban women, where adultery, turmoil and murder are part of the plot lines.

In e-mails obtained by investigators, Freeman said she and her husband had been living apart for much of the preceding year while trying to repair their rocky marriage.

She also indicated that she suffered from depression and was taking a variety of medications.

During a preliminary hearing for Rocha-Perez, Freeman described in stunning detail the events leading up to the April 10 death inside the home at 5424 Incline Drive.

Freeman testified that she had met Rocha-Perez "randomly" on July 4 after she and her husband went downtown to see the fireworks celebration.

Her husband decided to go home and left her to stay in a hotel room that they had rented.

Freeman testified that she had taken Rocha-Perez and two of his friends back to the hotel, "partied" and had sex with all three men.

In the following months, she said she maintained a relationship with Rocha-Perez, a man she only knew as Christian.

At one point, the woman testified, the boyfriend began sleeping on a foam mat on the floor of a 2-by-8-foot closet in the couple's home.

Rocha-Perez slept there for about a month until Jeffrey Freeman heard snoring coming from the closet, followed the sound and discovered his wife's lover, the woman said.

According to her testimony, an angry Jeffrey Freeman said he was going out for a walk and he wanted the man out of his house when he came back.

Instead of leaving, Martha Freeman testified, the boyfriend picked up a shotgun belonging to Jeffrey Freeman and confronted him. He ordered the husband into a bathroom at gunpoint, and then beat him and strangled him, she said.

"I was absolutely terrified about what was going on," Martha Freeman testified. "Also, if he could have done this to my husband, I wasn't sure what he would do to me."

At one point in the hearing, Metro General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland stopped the proceedings, saying the woman needed a lawyer.

Jeffrey Freeman's mother has told The Tennessean that Martha Freeman called her in the hours after the killing and told her that Jeffrey had gone to sleep early and wouldn't be making his usual weekly telephone call to his mother.

Martha Freeman is set to be arraigned Aug. 31.

 
 

Wife says she listened as husband beaten to death

Judge startled by testimony about man in closet, urges her to get lawyer

Tennessean.com

April 19, 2005

Martha Freeman described yesterday how she listened from the next room, her hands covering her face, as her husband was beaten and choked to death by her lover in the bathroom of their south Nashville home last week.

She could hear the sounds of water trickling and thumping, then silence. But the woman decided against calling police.

"I was absolutely terrified about what was going on," she said. "Also, if he could have done this to my husband, I wasn't sure what he would do to me."

Martha Freeman testified yesterday during a preliminary hearing in Davidson County Criminal Court for Rafael DeJesus Rocha-Perez, 35, who faces a charge of criminal homicide in the death. The man, whom Martha Freeman said she knew only as Christian, had secretly slept in a closet in the Freemans' home for about a month, before the April 10 confrontation with her husband, the woman said.

Rocha-Perez has denied killing Freeman.

Yesterday's hearing - briefly recessed after the judge became concerned that Martha Freeman might be incriminating herself - marked the first time that she has spoken publicly about the case, which has drawn nationwide media attention.

According to her, Jeffrey Freeman, 44, had followed the sound of snoring to a closet, where he found Rocha-Perez sleeping.

"He ordered me to get up and to take this man home," Martha Freeman testified. "I was getting up and getting ready to take him home. He (Jeffrey Freeman) just told me he was going to go outside and walk the dog and when he got back, the man had better be out of his house."

But instead of leaving, Rocha-Perez picked up a shotgun belonging to Jeffrey Freeman and confronted him, the woman said.

She said Jeffrey Freeman began to pray.

"When my husband started to pray, it upset him - Christian - and when Christian got upset is when he pulled (Jeffrey) into the bathroom and shut the door," she testified.

At some point during the night, Martha Freeman called her husband's mother to inform his parents that her son would not be making his weekly telephone call to them because he had taken some medication and gone to sleep early, the victim's relatives have said.

The next afternoon, Martha Freeman went to the home of neighbors and asked them to call police. Officers found her husband's body about 3:30 p.m. April 11, lying inside a sleeping bag.

He had massive head injuries. A detective testified Jeffrey Freeman also appeared to have been choked with a belt and telephone cord.

During yesterday's hearing, Rocha-Perez sat at the defense table, leaning his head sideways to better hear the Spanish-language court interpreter whispering in his ear. He has been jailed without bail since his arrest last week.

After less than an hour of the court hearing, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Casey Moreland abruptly stopped Martha Freeman's testimony during cross-examination by Rocha-Perez's lawyer, saying the woman needed an attorney.

"It's so bizarre," Moreland said from the bench. "It's hard to believe a lot of this. ... I have problems with allowing this to go any further without her getting some representation.

"And I can see her being charged in this case. She probably should be charged in this case. I hope the state does not believe everything she's testifying to, because I sure don't."

Moreland asked prosecutors whether they planned to charge Martha Freeman with a crime. Prosecutor Katy Miller answered: "She's not charged right now."

Police have said they still have questions about what Martha Freeman was doing in the hours before she called police. They are also scrutinizing telephone calls she made before police were notified.

During questioning yesterday by Rocha-Perez's defense attorney, Metro Homicide detective Brad Corcoran testified that Martha Freeman's account did not seem credible.

After the break, Martha Freeman returned to the witness stand and declined to answer further questions. She invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, citing the advice of her lawyer.

Jeffrey and Martha Freeman worked as licensed private investigators, operating a firm in Brentwood.

According to e-mails that Martha sent to friends in February, which are being reviewed by police, the woman said she had manic-depressive disorder and was taking medications that often left her unable to work or function.

She also said that she and her husband were trying to reconcile after living apart for six months.

In one e-mail, she likened life in her upscale Mountain View home to living on Wisteria Lane, the fictional setting for the popular ABC television show Desperate Housewives.

Before the judge halted yesterday's hearing, Martha Freeman testified that she met Rocha-Perez on July 4, when she and her husband were in downtown Nashville to see the annual fireworks. Her husband, however, decided to go home and left her to stay in the hotel room they had, she said.

Martha Freeman said she met Rocha-Perez "randomly" and took him and two of his male friends back to her hotel room. She testified yesterday that they had "partied" and then she had sex with all three men.

During the months that followed, she said she maintained her relationship with Rocha-Perez until he moved into her home during the past month. When Jeffrey Freeman was at home, Rocha-Perez would sleep on a foam mat on the floor of a 2- by 8-foot closet.

When the husband was away, Rocha-Perez had free rein in the home, Martha Freeman said. She said he would spend his days playing video games, watching television and eating.

To communicate, Martha Freeman said, she and Rocha-Perez would often use a hand-held electronic device that translates English to Spanish.

After the hearing, Rocha-Perez's lawyer, Peter Strianse, described his client as a bricklayer from Mexico who has no criminal record in either the U.S. or his native country.

"It is the insistence of Mr. Rocha-Perez that he had absolutely nothing to do with this (the killing)," Strianse said.

Rocha-Perez also denies having lived inside the Freeman home "on a continual basis," Strianse said. The lawyer said Martha Freeman would take Rocha-Perez to her home when she wanted to see him.

Rocha-Perez remained jailed yesterday with an immigration hold because he is in the U.S. illegally, police said. His case will be submitted to the grand jury.

 
 


Martha Ann Freeman

 

Rafael Rocha-Perez

 

The home at 5424 Incline Drive.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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