'Women and money': Prosecutors suggest motives in Abshire pretrial hearing
If Eric Abshire were a grieving widower, he had a strange way of showing it. According to information presented by prosecutors Thursday, between the death and burial of his wife, the Orange County man had sex with one woman, and he flashed a topless photo of another woman mere hours after the mangled body of Justine Abshire was found on a dark road near Barboursville.
The lurid details emerged during an October 6 pre-trial hearing in Orange Circuit Court, where the 36-year-old widower will stand for trial next week on a first-degree murder charge.
Top motives when a husband murders his wife are "women and money," declared Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Moore. "We have those in this case."
Moore told the court that while dating and married to Justine, Eric Abshire had been involved with as many as eight other women. But it's what Abshire allegedly did in the days surrounding his wife's demise that sent shudders throught the courtroom and brought protests from the defense.
On the day of Justine's death, prosecutor Moore said, Abshire allegedly showed at least one person a "topless or nude photo" of a female acquaintance. Upon flashing the photo, which he carried in his wallet, Moore said, Abshire mentioned Justine's parents, Steve and Heidi Swartz, then traveling to Virginia from their home in Tennessee after getting word of their daughter's death.
"They probably aren't going to want to see this," Abshire allegedly said.
Abshire told authorities he found the body of his wife on Taylorsville Road on November 3, 2006. The blonde 27-year-old, a kindergarden teacher, was the apparent victim of a hit and run; but authorities now say that Eric Abshire brutally killed her and then staged a phony accident scene.
"Would his love for his wife prevent him from killing her?" asked Moore. "The affection wasn't there because the affection was spread all over."
In open court, Moore reeled off the names of three of Eric Abshire's alleged extra-marital sexual partners and noted that the allegedly sexually prolific dump truck driver had intercourse with one of the women in the days between his wife's death and funeral.
In deference to requests from both the defense and prosecution, both expressing concern that such details could hinder jury selection in the rural community, the Hook has agreed to withhold the identities for now.
The prosecution also noted the amount of insurance money Abshire stood to receive if his wife died in a hit-and-run.
"He could have collected $1.5 million," said Moore, listing five policies for which Abshire was the beneficiary, and asking the court to allow evidence of a financial motive for murder. Moore revealed that Abshire was no stranger to insurance claims, having filed 12 of them in automotive and other cases between 2000 and 2009.
"Here is someone," said Moore, "who is very familiar with filing insurance claims."
Charles Weber, Abshire's court-appointed attorney, offered five motions on behalf of his client including a request to shield "prior acts" from the jury. Citing "so many incidents," Weber suggested that Abshire's history, replete with protective orders and assault arrests, wouldn't relate to the events surrounding his wife's death.
In an earlier hearing, the Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney asserted that Abshire has a history of manual strangulation, citing an allegedly painful but not permanently injurious act against the mother of his two children. Judge Daniel Bouton declined to rule, explaining that the court will consider evidence of Abshire's history on a "case by case" basis.
During the three-hour hearing, Abshire sat expressionless in the orange jumpsuit issued by the Central Virginia Regional Jail. Shackled and handcuffed, he spoke only when the judge asked him to reenter his "not guilty" plea, one of several procedural issues to take place since a grand jury issued a fresh indictment last month to replace one issued late last year.
One defense motion asked the court to exclude testimony about Justine's "habits"– for instance, whether she would have been likely to leave her home around midnight on a chilly evening. As previously reported, Abshire claims the couple had an argument on that fateful night five years ago. According to Abshire, Justine drove off in her 2002 Ford Mustang before quickly calling to report car trouble. Abshire claims when he went to render aid, he discovered his dead or dying wife before rushing to a nearby house to call 911.
As the investigation progressed, prosecutors and police revealed a litany of details suggesting that the scene was no accident. Besides finding no evidence of mechanical problems with the woman's car, they said Justine's body showed 113 separate injuries. Conspicuously absent, they added, was much blood at the scene– or any "strike marks," injuries typical when a vehicle hits a standing pedestrian.
Throughout the investigation, Abshire has insisted his story is valid and maintained his innocence.
Justine's parents, Steve and Heidi Swartz, who have long suspected their former son-in-law, sat stoically as the motions were presented. While previously outspoken, they declined comment following the hearing, citing proximity of the trial.
The trial is slated to begin October 12.