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Wife Sentenced for Fatal Beating : Domestic violence: Michelle Chapman, who pleaded no contest, receives the maximum 11 years in prison for killing her husband.

February 14, 1992|JULIO MORAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Tujunga woman was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison for beating her husband to death in a case of gender-reversed spousal abuse after she warned police that officers should "take him away before I kill him."

In imposing the maximum sentence on Michelle Chapman, 46, who pleaded no contest, San Fernando Superior Court Judge Howard J. Schwab said prosecutors showed compassion by not seeking a second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum term of 15 years to life in prison.

"This was a planned killing," Schwab said. "She told police that she was going to kill him. But I do believe that in the interest of justice and compassion that this is appropriate."

Neighbors of the couple said the Chapmans were known for heavy drinking and loud fights, and that Chapman had often beat and threatened to kill her husband, Thomas Chapman, 52, a Vietnam veteran. Only hours before he was fatally beaten June 9, paramedics went to the Chapmans' apartment and stitched a head wound on the man, who also had cuts and bruises on his face.

Authorities have described it as a classic domestic-violence case, except that it was the husband who was the passive victim of the wife, instead of the other way around.

The case brought into question whether police could have prevented the killing. Police had gone to the apartment at Michelle Chapman's request the day of the killing, but left after concluding that her husband was in no imminent danger, even though they had not spoken to him.

A neighbor, Tracy Taylor, told reporters that she heard Michelle Chapman tell police by telephone: "Come get him and take him away before I kill him. . . . I need to get away from him; I'm going to hurt him."

Officers urged Chapman to spend the night with friends and left.

About an hour later, Chapman called paramedics, telling them, "I hit him and kicked him and hope he is dead," according to court records. Paramedics found Chapman dead.

In court Thursday, Chapman denied killing her husband, saying he was drunk and fell and hit his head. She said she spoke of killing him because she hoped that would motivate paramedics--who were reluctant to return because of the earlier incident--to come quickly to his aid.

"They didn't want to come, so I said I kicked him and hurt him," Chapman said. "That's all I could say to get them to come to the house. But I didn't touch him; I didn't hurt him."

Chapman's mother, Patricia King, said she believes her daughter is innocent and asked Schwab to place Chapman in her custody so that her daughter could enter a drug rehabilitation center. According to court records, Chapman has a history of mental illness and drug addiction.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. William Holliman said Chapman killed her husband by repeatedly kicking him in the head. "She told police 'I kicked the expletive out of him,' " he said.

Holliman said he considered Chapman's mental and drug problems, as well as her intoxicated state when she killed her husband, in allowing her to plead no contest to manslaughter instead of murder. A no-contest plea is the legal equivalent of an admission of guilt.

Michael Chapman, 34, one of Thomas Chapman's sons by a previous wife, had asked Schwab to sentence her to the maximum term. He said outside the courtroom that he was pleased with the sentence, but would have preferred a second-degree murder charge.

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