PRINCETON — For years, Joanie Cline said she couldn’t recall firing the shot that took her husband’s life. Friday, her attorneys argued she should get a new trial because she now remembers she never pulled the trigger.

Edward Cline died Sept. 12, 2002, of a gunshot wound to the head he sustained in the Bluefield bedroom he and Joanie Cline shared.

Soon thereafter, Joanie Cline confessed to killing the 31-year-old man in his sleep and was tried on a first-degree murder charge. In summer 2003, a Mercer County jury convicted Cline of second-degree murder, after hearing two dramatically different versions of the events that transpired that fateful day on Augusta Street and deciding she did not act with the premeditation required of a first-degree murder conviction.

The state, represented by then-Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Boggess alleged Joanie Cline planned to kill her husband for a while. He pointed to a series of calls she placed to the Poison Control Center, inquiring about the impact of rat poison and a potentially fatal mixture of over-the-counter sleeping medication with the prescriptions Ed Cline already took. She even reportedly mentioned Mt. Dew, a drink known to be the victim’s favorite.

At the time he died, Ed Cline reportedly had 30 times the therapeutic dose of that sleeping medication in his system, Boggess said.

During trial, he argued Joanie Cline drugged her husband, took her children to her parents’ house, returned home, killed her husband, returned to Princeton, picked up her children and went shopping.

At some point, she also called her husband’s coworker and best friend, Teddy Coppola, allegedly telling him she couldn’t get Ed to answer the phone and was afraid he wouldn’t wake up in time for work. When Coppola stopped by to check on Ed, he made the grisly discovery.

On the other side of the case, Joanie Cline’s court-appointed defense counsel Tracy Burks and Lynn Fuda argued that alleged abuse inside the Cline marriage had simply become too much for the young mother. They claimed she lived in constant fear of her husband and had finally made the decision to move out the day Ed Cline died.

Joanie Cline, they said, removed her children from harm’s way and returned to Augusta Street to gather her belongings for a new life. As she prepared to enter the bedroom, where investigators found three firearms, Joanie Cline testified she heard her husband groan and believed he was about to shoot her.

She told the jury she picked up one of the guns, wrapped it in a baby blanket she picked up on her way upstairs and clenched her eyes.

Though she reportedly couldn’t recall firing a shot, Cline testified she heard a gun fire once, heard it hit the floor and ran down the stairs, out of the house and back to her parents’ house.

Cline’s defense hinged on the idea that she killed her husband out of self-defense, all while enduring the fragmented memory of post-traumatic stress disorder and battered woman’s syndrome.

She received a 15-year sentence from then-Circuit Court Judge John Frazier and has remained in custody, most recently at Lakin Correctional Center, where she is estimated to be released in 2011.

Last week, however, her attorneys, Paul Cassell and J.L. Hickok, petitioned the court to set a new trial based on arguments that Cline has recovered from the post-traumatic stress disorder, has regained memory that she did not shoot Ed Cline and is now competent to assist her attorneys.

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Fingerprints and a so-called memory “fog” dominated much of the debate Friday before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope. On Cline’s side, Cassell and Hickok argued their client should never have stood trial in 2003 due to memory loss that left her incapable of assisting her defense counsel.

In addition, they said she confessed under coercive conditions and the false impression that her fingerprints had been found on the firearm that killed Ed Cline.

All of that, combined with battered woman’s syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, forensic psychologist Dr. Patricia McGraw testified to during trial, created a perfect storm that prompted her to confess to murder.

“Such a behavior, to an average person, would seem impossibly illogical,” if she didn’t commit the crime, McGraw said.

After years of corresponding with Cline, McGraw testified Friday, not as a legal or medical expert, but as the potential author of a book based on Joanie Cline’s story.

She said then-Bluefield Police Department Det. R.W. Hinzeman told Cline her fingerprints were on the gun during interrogation, propelling Cline to build the rest of her missing memories around that single piece of information.

In truth, evidence collected at the scene and presented to the jury during trial never showed Cline’s fingerprints on the weapon. Even her own testimony indicated she held the gun under a blanket, when she said she killed her husband.

After years away from the alleged abuse, McGraw testified Cline has found the time and safety needed to repair her memory. In a letter dated July 17, 2007, McGraw said Cline shared the memory she now claims is her truth of what happened in September 2002.

Now, McGraw said, Cline recalls stopping just inside the bedroom door, standing at the foot of the bed and seeing Ed Cline move. Fearing he was about to shoot her, Joanie Cline allegedly wrote she closed her eyes and braced for the shot. But, instead of feeling the wound herself, she only heard the gun fire and a thud as it hit the floor.

Given that scenario, McGraw speculated Ed Cline must have killed himself, an idea Boggess dismissed.

“I guarantee you, it was not suicide,” the now-prosecuting attorney declared.

In order for that theory to hold true, Boggess said, Cline would have had to remain awake, despite 30 times the recommended dosage of sleeping pills, reach outside the blankets that covered him, shoot himself in the head, toss the gun to the floor, cover himself back up and “cross his arms over his chest in a sleeping position” before he lost consciousness.

McGraw countered that his friend could have crossed Ed Cline’s arms and covered his head out of respect, but Boggess refuted that possibility as well.

Due to his proximity to the firearm when he was shot and the severity of Ed Cline’s wounds, Boggess said blood pooled on the side on which he lay until authorities arrived. It also ran onto his hands and arms that were clasped close to him.

“If Teddy had done anything to touch that body, everything wouldn’t have been in sync there,” Boggess said, telling the witness the pool of blood was undisturbed. “So, that body was not moved.”

McGraw was unwilling to concede.

“I think there are a number of things, possibilities, that could have happened...” she said. “I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone will ever know, because no one was there.”

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As for the fingerprints, McGraw testified she believed Joanie Cline grabbed hold of a police officer’s tactic — claiming her fingerprints were on the gun — and used it to create a string of memories she would later use to confess and testify in court.

People who suffer fragmented memories often attempt “to put their memories back together in a sequence that makes sense to them,” she said.

At Boggess’s questioning why Joanie Cline would tell at least four individuals and a jury she killed her husband if she couldn’t really remember pulling the trigger, McGraw said she wasn’t surprised.

“The inconsistencies are consistent with a person who doesn’t remember,” she said.

That memory loss, according to McGraw, also left Cline incapable of understanding her trial.

“I heard her fingerprints were not on the gun during trial,” McGraw said. “But, she was there, and she did not understand,”

Meanwhile, psychologist Dr. Gregory DeClue testified he believed Cline was coerced into confessing to a crime she may or may not have committed. On several points, he argued Hinzeman controlled the interview and that he was intimidating to Cline in a number of ways: He was a man, and a tall one at that; he was a police officer, the same occupation as Cline’s husband, alleged abuser and possible victim; he was kind to her during the investigation; and he used a lot of detail in the interrogation.

“You’re saying that’s coercion?” Boggess asked. “I just honestly don’t get that.”

DeClue countered that Cline thought she went to the police department to provide background information and automatically believed her fingerprints must have been on the weapon if a law enforcement officer told her they were there. He also argued that Cline did not properly understand the Miranda rights before she was formally questioned as a suspect, but he never questioned the officer did read her the rights.

“I don’t know whether she killed her husband or not. I don’t know whether her statement was a false confession or a true confession,” he said.

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In closing, Cassell reminded the court that defendants found incompetent to assist their attorneys are legally prohibited from standing trial. He argued Cline was found competent at a time when she did not possess the psychological capacity to help herself.

“The fog was still there,” he said.

Only now that she allegedly remembers she never shot her husband, does he say she could sufficiently assist in her own defense.

Boggess, in contrast, maintained that a memory allegedly regained is not proof of new evidence, just a different story.

“A change in testimony, which is what we have here, is not newly discovered evidence,” he said. “All this stuff was already presented and decided by a jury.”

After contacting Poison Control, purchasing the drugs, extracting the powder from the medicine and slipping it into Ed Cline’s food and/or drink, Boggess said he believed Cline was “more than capable of aiding and assisting her counsel.”

“Now, she’s just coming in here and changing her testimony,” he said. “She knew what she was doing.”

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Cline was placed on home confinement in 2002 and has been in custody since 2003, moving several times in the wake of allegations she was mistreated by correctional officers. Additional lawsuits have arisen from those allegations.

Friday, the 31-year-old sat at the defense table in her prison-issue uniform, her hands and feet shackled, barely resembling the 25-year-old who stood trial in highlighted hair and flawless cosmetics. The emotions of the trial were also missing.

With the exception of an occasional frown or raised eyebrow during cross-examination, the only emotion she showed occurred at the end of the hearing, when Swope announced he planned to order her held at Southern Regional Jail until Dec. 26, allowing her family to visit during the holidays.

At that point, Cline cried and pleaded with the judge to send her back to Lakin. Cassell said she feared for her safety if she remained in jail in Beaver.

Swope then advised court officials to disregard the initial order and remanded her to Lakin.

The judge set January deadlines for additional motions, but he did not slate a date for his ruling.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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