Pair guilty of killing wife's mate
Jury finds they beat, bound, strangled him
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Wife ran errands while spouse lay dead in the
bathtub, police say
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
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
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
Judge startled by testimony about man in closet,
urges her to get lawyer
April 19, 2005
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.
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
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.
denied killing Freeman.
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
The home at 5424 Incline Drive.