Sabrina Hendley was charged with second-degree murder after she fatally shot her husband in May 2018. However, her attorneys and court witnesses claim that she acted in self-defense — and an upcoming hearing in her trial could result in charges being dropped.
More than three years ago, Hendley shot and killed her husband, Mark, at their home during a pool party. Hillsborough County deputies took her into custody, still in her bathing suit, and charged her with second-degree murder.
But witnesses described Hendley as hysterical just moments after prosecutors said she pulled the trigger.
"What I hear from the 911 call is a woman, who's in severe distress over having to shoot her husband, but not wanting to do so," said Todd Foster, Sabrina Hendley's attorney. "You know, many people who kill, kill from malice or remorse, not from necessity. And this is a woman who's distressing and regretful for having done what she felt she had to do."
Foster argues that Hendley acted in self-defense after her husband was allegedly verbally and physically abusive to her and others all day long.
"This was a very volatile night — that her husband had been violent, not only with her prior to the shooting, but with her father, and with her friend who was visiting," Foster said.
Sworn testimony by witnesses appears to back up Foster's claims.
Hendley's father, Mike Irwin, told detectives that his son-in-law sucker-punched him.
"...and then just out of the blue, he sucker-punches me. So I get up, you know. I'm seeing stars. And he is like, 'Well, what are you going to do? Come on.' And he sucker-punches me again. And then he jumps on my back and starts choking me," Irwin told detectives.
Foster said that, based on further testimony, the violence continued throughout the day.
"The father also provided evidence that he witnessed Mark slap Sabrina. So there was a lot of drinking that night. And the testimony has been that with increased alcohol, there were increased levels of violence and abuse," Foster said.
That increased violence was documented by a neighbor, Lorelei Polatz, who was also at the house that evening swimming with the Hendleys until she said Mark Hendley got violent.
"He did put his arm around my neck and had me in the choke-hold," Polatz wrote in a deposition. "The water was above my nose, and I sat there for at least 20 minutes. I'm freaking out. I sucked in tons of water ... He grabs me again, and he brought me in the same choke-hold right back to the deep-end, where I couldn't reach and then I went right under again."
Polatz also said Mark Hendley threatened his wife that night with a "big military-looking knife" to her face while on their patio.
"He puts it in front of her face, and he's waving it," Polatz said in her testimony. "That's when she starts getting more scared. He just kept on having that knife right in her face and having her by her neck, like a choke-hold. And saying, 'What's wrong, little wife, you don't like the knife? You don't like the knife?'"
Sabrina Hendley also testified she was in fear of her life and tried to run away.
"I remember getting out of the backyard, and I remember running down the street. And I remember him getting me, and him pulling me back into the house. And then I remember getting back out again and hiding behind a car," Sabrina Hendley told detectives during an interrogation.
Toward the end of the evening, Hendley was alone in a bedroom with her husband, and her attorney says at that point, she was still in fear for her life.
"We believe that Mark was approaching her, and she had a weapon drawn, and in order to defend herself before he came close enough to take the weapon from her or to batter her, or to hurt her physically, that she shot one round in self-defense," Foster said.
Hendley acknowledged her fear during the interrogation.
"He's going to beat the sh*t out of me if I don't shoot this gun right now," she told investigators.
"This is like a whole evening of violence. And then confronted unexpectedly in that bedroom with this situation," Foster said.
"I've never defended a case where a woman has taken a life in defense of her family before. But I did take this case," said Julie Weintraub, a domestic violence advocate and founder of Hands Across The Bay.
Weintraub heard about Hendley's case and immediately wanted to help.
"This particular one, I'm fighting with all that I have. This mother should be reunited with her children and not face charges," Weintraub said.
Weintraub believes Hendley acted in self-defense and needed to stand her ground.
"If this situation where there's that much violence going on in the house, and she ends up being charged, this is not a safe country for women to live in at all," Weintraub said.
According to testimony, there was a history of domestic violence between Hendley and her husband.
"It was a volatile marriage that, according to the testimony, came out in court (and) did include many instances of verbal and likely physical abuse," Foster said.
Hendley told detectives about prior physical abuse during a fight a few years back.
"My husband just did a leg sweep and knocked my head to the concrete," she said. "I just went to the VA and told them I fell down."
Hendley's father, who lived with the couple to help take care of the children, also testified that he knew of previous instances of domestic violence.
"Yeah, he has hit her before," Irwin said.
Polatz, the Hendleys' neighbor, said she also saw evidence of abuse in the past.
"(Sabrina Hendley) did have a bruise here on her left side. It was like a cut and another bruise on her head from Mark hitting her," she said.
Foster argues that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law applies in the case and hopes to get the charges thrown out.
"She was forced to make a decision to either shoot to defend herself or sustain death or great bodily harm," Foster said.
Weintraub also believes Sabrina Hendley should not be charged, as she was forced to defend herself.
"At some point, women need to be able to stand their ground," Weintraub said.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 1 at 8:30 a.m. local time and could decide if a "Stand Your Ground" defense was reasonable and if the case will be thrown out.
If the judge denies that request, she will go to trial on second-degree murder charges. If convicted, Hendley could face 25 years to life in prison.
This story was originally published by Wendy Ryan on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.