U.S. Marshal Found Guilty of Manslaughter

U.S. Marshal Found Guilty of Manslaughter

The jury took less than five hours to return a verdict of voluntary manslaughter for John Ludwig.

Judge James H. Chamblin turned the case over to the jury just before 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 18.

John Ludwig, who is a former police officer in Howard County, Md., and was in the Army for more than six years, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife of 21 months, Karen Ludwig, on July 4, 2005, in their Ashburn home. John Ludwig, 52, called 911 around 8:30 a.m., July 6, 2005, the day after his birthday, and admitted to the shooting.

Ludwig was also found guilty of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

The jury will come back Wednesday, July 19, to make a sentencing recommendation.

Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and commission of a firearm carries a mandatory sentence of three years. The sentence for commission with a firearm is served consecutively with any other sentence.

The verdict came after almost seven days of testimony, including live testimony from John Ludwig and a two-hour video of his initial interview with authorities, and culminated with closing arguments Tuesday morning.

ON THE STAND, Wednesday, July 12, John Ludwig admitted once again to shooting his wife five times, but said he did not initially recall all of the circumstances surrounding the shooting. Karen Ludwig was shot twice in the side, twice in the chest and once in the face.

During cross examination, lead prosecutor Robert Vernail pointed out several discrepancies between Ludwig's initial statement to police and his testimony. Ludwig did not mention that Karen Ludwig had a gun until days after his arrest.

"I had no recall of the Walthers [handgun] from the night of the fourth," Ludwig said. "I tried to answer [investigators'] questions to the best of my ability."

Ludwig added that he only remembered 15 minutes of the initial one-hour-and-45-minute interview with deputies.

Vernail pointed out inconsistencies with details of the events, including the amount of alcohol he drank prior to the shooting, the extent of the argument between him and Karen Ludwig that led to the shooting, where his handgun was, where his wife was on the bed during the incident and the way he moved while he was shooting.

Following the shooting, John Ludwig was alone in his house until the police arrived July 6, 2005. The defense stated that during that time he drank heavily, took large amounts of pain medication, muscle relaxants and contemplated suicide with the same Walthers gun his wife allegedly pointed at him during the incident. While contemplating suicide, he decided to use a larger caliber gun and placed the Walthers back in his gun safe, where deputies later found it, the defense said.

The trauma of the shooting and the amount of alcohol and drugs John Ludwig consumed during that period led to temporary amnesia of the event, defense attorney Alexander Levay said.

Ludwig said he was suicidal even as he gave his initial interview to investigators.

"During the interview I told them it really doesn't matter" he said. "I told the investigator on the way into the interview room, 'Throw me in the hole and let me die.'"

"The statement must be viewed for what it is," Levay said. "It is a confused man who wants to die."

DURING CLOSING arguments Tuesday morning, Vernail told the jury they had to decide the credibility of John Ludwig's depiction of the events of July 4, 2005.

"You will have to compare the emotional display of Mr. Ludwig on the stand to the deliberate, matter-of-fact and unremorseful manner he spoke to law enforcement," he said. Vernail called his testimony "very evasive and very unbelievable" and said it was inconsistent in "every meaningful way" from his initial interview.

"He never said Karen has a gun," Vernail said. "He never said he kept a gun under his pillow. He never said he wanted to kill himself with the [Walthers.] He never said he put the [Walthers] in the safe."

Levay said the fact that John Ludwig never once mentioned the Walthers is proof that he had blocked out portions of the event.

"Your wife pulling a gun on you, from John's point of view, that is the most traumatic thing," he said. "Everything about this gun is blocked. If Karen didn't point a gun at him, there is no reason not to mention the gun under the pillow."

LEVAY TOLD THE jury that everything John Ludwig had done indicated a man who believed he was not guilty, including calling the police and doing nothing to cover up his involvement.

"If John acted in a cold, premeditated manner, common sense would tell us he would have planned it a little better," Levay said. "He has multiple identifications. He could have been in Central America on July 5. He could have hid evidence, manipulated evidence or created evidence."

Levay added that the lack of motive equals lack of proof of premeditation.

"The lack of motive and lack of flight indicates a heat of passion moment," he said, arguing for a verdict of manslaughter.

By contrast, Vernail said the physical evidence is a clear indicator of murder in the first degree, which requires malice and premeditation.

"This is a picture of malice," he said, holding up photos of the crime scene. "There is nothing she could have done or said lying in the bed that could have provoked being shot five times."

Vernail snapped his fingers to emphasize the five shots before telling the jury that there is no time requirement for premeditation.

"You can premeditate in an instant," he said. "You just have to have the thought in your head."

The defense said there is no reason for a law-enforcement officer to empty his entire weapon unless he had "lost it."

"This isn't a guy who loses his cool easily," Levay said. "This was a visceral response. There was no thought or planning beforehand."