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As Family Prayed, Tammy Got a Gun

Mystery: She wounded her spouse and father-in-law on what she called an impulse. Then investigators learned about her first husband.

July 01, 2001|JAY REEVES | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOULTON, Ala. — Tammy Martin quietly pulled a gun out of her purse and pointed it at her husband, David. His eyes were closed and his head was bowed as he sat at the dining table, praying with his parents.

Tammy Martin pulled the trigger. The slug hit her husband in the chest, narrowly missing his heart. The .357-caliber pistol roared again. Another shot to the chest.

She kept firing. Her father-in-law, Bob Martin, was hit as he tried to grab the gun. Though wounded, he forced her out the front door and locked it.

When she broke a window and shoved the gun back inside, he wrenched it from her hand. The mayhem in the Chandler, Ind., home of Tammy Martin's in-laws was finally over.

David Martin would survive. He was luckier than his wife's first husband. Ricky Terry died in a 1990 shooting that remains unsolved.

The two men had something in common besides Tammy, according to court records and police: Both carried big life insurance policies that stood to make her rich.

For years, Tammy Alexander had turned heads in her northwest Alabama hometown of Moulton, pop. 3,260. Now 42, she is slender, tall and blond, with fashionable clothes and the air of someone who knows how to wear them.

Her small-town chic seemed at odds with Ricky Terry, a good ol' boy who worked in construction, owned a horse and loved to hunt.

But Tammy and Ricky were childhood sweethearts who dropped out of high school and married when she was 16. Her parents gave them an acre of land in their neighborhood, keeping their daughter close to home.

After 10 years of marriage, however, the couple divorced in 1986. They parted on good terms, partly for the sake of their 3-year-old daughter, Whitney. Sometimes they rode to work together.

Then, on April 12, 1990, Ricky Terry's body was found slumped in his red pickup parked beside Full Gospel Holiness Tabernacle, outside Moulton.

Six .22-caliber slugs had gone into his chest. A wound to his hand was probably from trying to fend off the first shot, surmised Mike Ball, an agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.

The volume on the radio was turned down low and shots appeared to have been fired from the passenger's seat. Ball added it up: Ricky Terry was killed while talking to someone he knew.

"At first I never thought it would be a hard one to solve," Ball said.

But he realized key evidence was missing. No murder weapon, shell casings or fingerprints were found.

There was one thing that caught everyone's eye, though: a woman's purse. The small handbag was on the front seat, bloodied and partially hidden by Terry's body. It belonged to his ex-wife.

Tammy said she left the purse in the truck long before the killing. And Ball believed that given the time of the killing and the places she was seen that morning, there was almost no way she could have killed her ex-husband.

Besides, she passed two lie-detector tests, including one in which she denied having a gun.

Then, police found a man who claimed to have sold a .22-caliber Ruger handgun to David Martin, whom she was dating. Ballistics tests showed such a weapon could have been used to kill Terry.

Tammy changed her story. She had, in fact, had a gun, she admitted now. She had given the weapon to Terry a week before the killing because he was afraid someone was after him, she said.

David Martin took a polygraph test, and it indicated he was lying when he said he didn't know anything about Terry's slaying, according to Ball.

But detectives were left with circumstantial evidence and suspicions.

Meanwhile, Tammy sued for $1 million from Jackson National Life Insurance Co., which had a life insurance policy on Terry.

The company refused to pay because he had identified himself as a nonsmoker on his insurance application. Cigarettes were found on his body when he was killed.

Eventually, a federal court ordered the company to pay Tammy $250,000 plus interest.

In July 1992, less than two years after Terry's death, David Martin and the ex-Mrs. Terry filed a form with an employer, declaring themselves common-law spouses.

They divorced three years later. But they remained together, which under Alabama law is enough for a common-law marriage.

And so it was that they traveled in February 1999 to visit David Martin's parents in Indiana, supposedly because of a dream Tammy had.

David Martin told police that his wife said she had dreamed that she would buy a winning lottery ticket after praying at the home of his parents, Bob and Ann Martin.

But instead of buying a lottery ticket, Tammy pulled a gun and started shooting.

Afterward, investigators pieced together what seemed a meticulously planned attack--even though Tammy said at one point that she had fired on impulse.

"She's sharp as a tack," said Randy Merta, an investigator in Warrick County, Ind., where the shooting occurred.

No fingerprints were on the gun. Tammy had worn plastic gloves during the drive from Alabama to Indiana, explaining to David she would bite her fingernails otherwise.

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