Kerrie Shot Dino
After Kerrie Constable killed her husband, a jury acquitted her. But a year later, Dino’s family still wonders if she got away with murder.
Atlanta Magazine | September 2003
For seven months after John Vincent Diangelo Constable died, his mama lay in bed hoping her legs would rot off. Trapped in a diabetic siege aggravated by mourning, Sheila Lee lay praying to the ceiling for a double amputation, a stroke, any vengeful blow that might forge the darkness of her guilt into a real and punitive blindness. John “Dino” Constable’s mama did not simply want to die—she wanted to suffer.
“Didn’t your mommy ever blame herself for something that weren’t her fault?” she asks in a voice heavy with the story of a good son dead. Her hairline is strafed with little sores, evidence of a grievous pick, pick, picking at her brow that her doctor labeled a form of self-mutilation. “I can’t help it,” she says. “Since Dino died, I’ve got no other outlet.”
Dino Constable was Sheila Lee’s good son. Her bad one, named Rebel, well, he’s been lost behind crack-house walls and iron bars for so many years it hardly matters. But Dino, she says he was always a good boy—a loving son, father and husband—which is why it’s so hard for her to grasp why his wife, Kerrie, never went to jail for killing him.
After all, Kerrie Constable was found standing near Dino’s body in the yard when the police arrived. And it is true that Kerrie Constable was indicted by a Cobb County grand jury for murder, just as it is true that last October, a jury set her free upon the argument that, at the moment she pulled the trigger, Kerrie Constable was mortally afraid of Sheila Lee’s good son.
It is also a given that many of the terrifying events Kerrie Constable testified to happen at any random moment across the land—the shoving matches, name-calling and idle threats. In this world, love dies the death of a thousand cuts every day. Yet husbands and wives dress their wounds or peaceably walk away. Damaged lives are somehow repaired, and life goes on.
Not so for Dino Constable. On a hot August afternoon three years ago, he pulled in the driveway of his in-laws’ two-story Powder Springs home, where his wife, daughter and stepson had been living for the past two months. Kerrie and Dino were separated, facing divorce and a bitter custody battle. It was 6 p.m. on a Friday, and Dino hoped to pick up his little girl, Oliviah, for the weekend. He planned to take her to a charity golf tournament the following morning. His estranged wife, however, had already sent Oliviah to another location and was in the house alone. Kerrie had left the garage door open and the side kitchen door unlocked. She had also laid out a 38-caliber revolver.
And of course, any reconstruction of their life must be measured against the fact that, besides Kerrie, the only other substantive witness is lying in a mausoleum vault near Dobbins Air Force Base.
Dino parked in the driveway and walked through the garage. He knocked on the kitchen door before entering. In the dining room, Dino handed Kerrie some mail, and a few moments later he lay dead in a neighbor’s flowerbed, crumpled in a bloody heap next to some garbage cans. Kerrie had shot him once in the throat and, as he left the house, twice more in the back.
Ultimately, Dino Constable is just another statistic in the dreadful tally of assault that spouses, lovers and intimates mark one against the other. As the anniversary of the trial draws close, however, courtroom observers, media and even some jurors have wondered whether justice was done. Dino’s family and friends, along with state prosecutors and investigators, still contend that Kerrie Constable got away with murder.
And of course, any reconstruction of their life must be measured against the fact that, besides Kerrie, the only other substantive witness is lying in a mausoleum vault near Dobbins Air Force Base. But there is no question that it was Kerrie Constable’s own gut-wrenching testimony that ultimately persuaded the jury that she was justified in killing her husband.
Exactly what occurred between Kerrie and Dino in those fatal seconds may never be known. Prosecutors argued she lured him into the house under the ruse of picking up his daughter, and shot him from a distance of 10 to 13 feet as he was leaning away. Her defense team argued that Dino became enraged when he learned Oliviah was not there, and was lunging at Kerrie when she fired.
What is not open to debate is the truth of Dino Constable’s final moments, a signature scrawled in a more-than-100-foot blood trail as he ran stumbling, going through the front screen door, down nine porch steps and across the front yard. The detectives and prosecution contended that—based purely on physical evidence—when he died, Dino Constable was allegedly fleeing for his life.
In the ensuing trial, Kerrie’s defense team employed what is known as Battered Person’s Syndrome, a component of “justifiable homicide by self-defense” that is more often simply referred to as Battered Women’s Syndrome.
How well that describes this case depends on whom you ask. Dino’s family says he was a good-natured man with a big heart. He was murdered, they claim, by a woman he adored but whose suspected infidelity made him feel jealous, humiliated, even angry. His widow paints a far darker portrait of a man who could walk up behind his wife at a crowded party, slide his arms around her waist and gently whisper that he wished to slit her whorish throat.
His death, which Kerrie now calls “a horrible accident,” has left gaping holes in two families who have known one another for generations. Dino’s mother once dated Kerrie’s great uncle, and she still wears a five-carat diamond ring she bought from Kerrie’s grandfather, a local jeweler. Kerrie knew the boy she would marry—and Dino knew the girl who would someday kill him—as far back as Pebblebrook High School.
While Kerrie claims that she has nothing but “God’s love” for Dino’s family, they harbor nothing but anger for her, fueled by the acid bath of a murder trial that exposed their own dysfunction. In court, there were references to Dino’s half-brother and stepbrother in jail, pornography tapes at his parent’s house, a decades-old family allegation of child molestation, gambling, drug use and alcoholism. In a very real sense, Dino’s family was put on trial.
“I know we don’t look too good on paper,” says Sheila Lee. “They make us look like we raised up some monster,” she says. “Kerrie’s said all these things about our family, but you can check out every damn one of us, from asshole to appetite, and we ain’t ever done a murder.”
IF THERE IS A singular truth about Dino Constable, it is that as a child, he was both fat and happy. His classmates, neighborhood friends—even his own family— called him Fatty. Fatso. Fat Boy.
“It hurt that boy’s heart,” admits his mother. But what she recalls most is the way he dealt with it. Rather than lash out in anger, he would fight back with a chubby smile and his standard retort: “Fat,” he’d say, “is where it’s at.”
A plodding athlete, Dino played baseball and football, and at Pebblebrook High School he ran with the “the guys nobody would mess with,” a pack middling rather than a leader. His only history of youthful conflict was a fight in sixth grade and a suspension for throwing acorns out the school bus window.
But Dino may not have been as carefree as his mom recalls, and indeed was plagued by his weight. As a kid, he once wrapped himself in plastic garbage bags and sat sweating in the attic in order to make weight limit for his pee-wee football team. At 15, he weighed 300 pounds.
His senior year of high school, faced with poor grades and the prospect of not graduating, Dino was sent by his mother to New York to live with his biological father, whom she had divorced when Dino was 2 because he was a “mean-as-hell, full-blooded Italian” who had been abusive to her. While in New York, Dino graduated and found the discipline to lose 100 pounds. He returned with girls on his mind and a weight-consciousness that he would struggle with the rest of his life.
His mom and stepfather, proprietors of a successful dental lab in Mableton, offered Dino college, but he refused, preferring a workaday existence fueled by Friday nights in Buckhead. He worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a press operator, and at one point took a medical leave of absence to undergo treatment for substance abuse.
Meanwhile, his future wife had already married. In fact, Kerrie Remeta, as Dino had once known her, had married the same man, Rob Sanders, twice, bearing a son during their second involvement. In late September of 1996, while married to Rob, she went to a club in Buckhead to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday, and from across the bar exchanged glances with a man she recognized from high school. It was a now fit and slim Dino Constable, and according to Kerrie they “fell in love instantly.”
Whether or not it was instant love, it was definitely near-instant sex. Within a matter of weeks, Kerrie was pregnant with Dino’s child. Kerrie divorced Rob Sanders in December of 1996 and moved in with Dino around March of 1997. Their daughter, Oliviah, was born in mid-July.
At the time they began living together, Dino was working for a company called Hair Replacement Systems (HRS), a hair-plug therapy that Dino himself had used. One night in August of 1997, with Oliviah two weeks old, Kerrie and Dino went to an HRS party. According to Kerrie, Dino got drunk, and when they came home began telling her she was too fat to have sex with, that he wished she would get in shape. Dino had a taste for porn, Kerrie told the jury, and would call her “ugly” and “disgusting.” He drank too much, was unable to get into a “family groove” and would stay away for days at a time. Nonetheless, in November of 1997, Kerrie and Dino went to the Cobb County Magistrate Court and got married.
Little more than a month later, the new family went out to eat with Dino’s mom and stepfather. Kerrie says Dino got drunk, and she had to drive home. On the way, he became enraged (though in court she couldn’t recall exactly why). He attempted to grab the wheel and run them off the road, she said. It was late at night, and she pulled over in the deserted parking lot of a gas station. Dino allegedly got out of the truck, came around to her side and jerked her out of the drivers’ seat by her hair and arm. He then got in and drove off. Minutes later, Dino showed up at Kerrie’s parents’ house. He dropped off Oliviah and told Kerrie’s father, who testified to the episode in court, that Kerrie was walking home. Dino was gone for three days, but eventually called and apologized.
A few months later, in the spring of 1998, Dino quit HRS and took a job in West Palm Beach, Florida. While the couple lived there, Kerrie says he started drinking heavily, smoking pot and staying out days at a time. He repeatedly accused her of sleeping around and “commonly referred to me as a whore.” Police investigations, however, turned up no corroborating evidence of conflict, such as complaints to local police.
They returned a few months later, both unemployed. The couple moved in with Kerrie’s parents and Kerrie took a job working for Dino’s mother at the family dental lab.
For eight months Dino languished in unemployment. Kerrie says he blamed his mounting sense of failure on her. One night, hearing them arguing upstairs, Kerrie’s father went to investigate and says he saw Dino at the head of the stairs drawing back as if to hit Kerrie. He broke it up. Dino left, and later returned and apologized.
Eventually, Dino went to work for Chick-fil-A with hopes of a store ownership. He was promoted to day manager of his South Cobb Drive location and attended corporate-excellence seminars. The couple moved into their own apartment. The relationship briefly stabilized, but then soon worsened. Kerrie told jurors Dino once got drunk at a pool party and went back to the apartment and passed out. When Kerrie later told Dino that a neighbor had helped her return to their apartment with the pool gear and the kids, he accused her of sleeping with the man, pulled her hair and grabbed her. According to Kerrie, Dino told her that if she slept with anyone else or tried to leave him, he would kill her.
Jurors interviewed for this story said they listened with a person-by-person mixture of shock, doubt and anger as Kerrie described the couple’s sex life. Kerrie said Dino liked to tie her up, handcuff her, and use “sexual devices of a masochistic nature.” Sometimes Dino would ask Kerrie to pretend to be his sister during sex. He would use his weight against her such that she felt unable to breathe. She alleged that he would outright choke her during intercourse while proclaiming that she was his and threatening to kill her if she tried to leave. His moods changed from one hour to the next, she said, but out of fear and shame she told no one.
To acquaintances, things seemed normal. Dino’s sister, DeNette Pace, who was close to Dino and had also developed a strong bond with Kerrie, says she and her husband often cooked out and went on double dates with Dino and Kerrie. “I would have known if something was that wrong. They were always lovey-dovey and hugging on each other.”
Whatever peace the couple may have enjoyed came to an end the first night of July 2000. They went to a movie and, according to Kerrie, Dino had one of his “episodes.” They came back home upset. He fell asleep, and woke up to find her keying an instant message into their computer. He accused her of having an affair online, and she threw a drink on him. She says he backhanded her across the sofa and stood over her, defying her to get up. When she did, she drove herself and the children to her parent’s house and never returned.
TWO MONTHS LATER, in the early evening of August 25, 2000, a neighbor of Kerrie’s parents was standing in his garage when he heard a series of shots. He looked up and saw a man running from the front porch of the house. The man was grunting as he ran, and the neighbor rushed back inside to call 911.
At 6:11 p.m., Powder Springs police also received a call from a woman. It was Kerrie Constable, who frantically reported that she had just shot her husband, according to police reports, “after inviting him in the house.” When police arrived, Kerrie Constable was standing in the front yard, cell phone in hand, saying, “He’s over there. He’s over there.”
The first officer on the scene noted that she was “making sobbing noise and seemed to be upset, but there were no tears in her eyes.” Kerrie was handcuffed and transported to the Powder Springs police department, and, after securing a search warrant, officers began to document the physical evidence.
Inside, the gun holster lay on a stool adjacent to the kitchen counter, which separated the cooking area from a small dining table. Directly behind the stool, a sliding glass door stood open. Kerrie told detectives she had opened it before Dino came over so she could run. The batch of mail that Dino had handed Kerrie when he first arrived was sitting on a lower step of the stairway that leads to the second floor of the house. Next to the mail lay the spent gun.
Although at trial she depicted a heated conflict during which Dino was “shoving furniture” and chasing her around the dining room table, the only such disturbance was a rocker near the front entrance that had been tipped over, perhaps as Dino went through the screen door. And if there had been a chase around the table, during which Kerrie reached for the gun, investigators found it difficult to explain why the holster was sitting atop the stool, as if placed there in a less-than-hurried moment.
But for Powder Springs police lieutenant Grady Bagley, the most disturbing physical evidence was the blood trail. It began at the wall where Dino was standing when first shot in the lower throat, leaving high-velocity blood spatter and body hair embedded in the sheetrock. His hat and bandana lay on the floor next to more blood. A second bullet angling downward into the living room floor suggested that Dino had spun when hit the first time, and was shot a second time in the back as he stumbled toward the door. A third bullet, traveling harmlessly on a different trajectory, indicated that Kerrie had changed position, possibly following him. And a fourth bullet on that same general trajectory hit him from behind near the front door.
“If she had shot him once and then run out the sliding glass door, I would have had a real dilemma,” says lieutenant Bagley. “But the fact that she followed him says she was no longer in fear for her life. She was then the aggressor.”
Barely an hour after the shooting, Bagley conducted his one and only interview with Kerrie. At first she waived her right to an attorney, but repeatedly requested that Bagley contact a Cobb County detective named Terry Haas, a family friend. What she said in that first interview, and how it later varied with her testimony in court, goes to the heart of the state’s erstwhile case against Kerrie Constable. As Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Tom Woodward puts it, “Our position is that much of her story was fabricated and Kerrie did not have the fear of Dino that she claimed.”
Over the next months, Bagley interviewed both families, as well as friends, co-workers and neighbors. “I looked at every possibility,” he recalls. “Was this a homicide? Was he a batterer?”
Eventually, an image of Dino began to emerge that made it harder for Bagley to accept a self-defense scenario. In her interview, Kerrie had stated Dino arrived at the house “wild-eyed and sweaty,” and earlier in the day she had told him not to come over; their daughter would not be there. But a co-worker of Dino’s told Bagley he had seen Dino as he’d left work around 4 p.m. and that he was upbeat because he was going to pick up Oliviah.
Neighbors surrounding the couple’s Austell apartment recalled no evidence of marital discord. Dino’s best friend, a man named Jeff Howard—who would become the prosecution’s principal character witness—stated that he had gotten Dino involved in his church to help resolve his marital problems, but that he had not been able to get Kerrie to participate. Bagley interviewed Kerrie’s first husband, Rob Sanders. Both Sanders and his current wife considered Dino soft-spoken and laid back. Once, when Sanders and Kerrie were arguing over custody of their small son, Jake, she put Dino on the phone to mediate. Sanders also admitted that Kerrie had had an affair during their first marriage. Detective Bagley tracked the man down and recorded a taped statement to that effect. Sanders further confided that, after their second divorce, he learned of another affair, and that he believed it had been with Dino, although he had never confronted either of them.
Because of what appeared to be a pattern of infidelity, Bagley began to wonder whether there might have been something other than mortal fear going through Kerrie’s mind at the time of the shooting.
KERRIE CONSTABLE betrays little more than a kind of general trauma in her eyes. They are a rich, powder blue, and, under probing questions, seem to water in a steadfast refusal to weep.
“Nobody has suffered from Dino’s death more than I have,” she says, adding that she is not at all happy to be doing an interview. Despite previous news statements about wanting to help raise awareness of abused women, Kerrie Constable declined initial requests made directly to her, as well as through her lawyers, her psychiatrist and even her mother. After eventually agreeing, she postponed the meeting four times, but did finally show up at her lawyer’s office on a Sunday at 3 p.m.
Now, during the interview in her lawyer’s office, she is asked why her alleged rape by Dino was not brought up during the trial.
Earlier, Kerrie had allowed her therapist, Dr. John Currie, who was also the defenses’ paid expert at the trial, to discuss her condition beyond the usual confines of doctor-patient confidentiality. Asked to explain the worst of what she suffered, Currie mentioned that at one point during their separation, Dino showed up at the restaurant where Kerrie worked, lured her into the parking lot and raped her in his car.
Kerrie never mentioned the incident at trial. “Many things were not brought up to my attorneys . . . from the trauma . . . the memory loss,” she says, “things I’ve become aware of even now from therapy and treatment that you suppress.”
She did, however, have vivid recollection of incidents that seem minor by comparison, such as hair-pulling, pinching, name-calling and Dino “gritting his teeth” at her. Asked if he knew about the alleged rape, her attorney, Vic Reynolds, who sat in on the interview, said, “No, I wish had. I would have asked her [on the stand].”
Kerrie’s apparent memory gaps frustrated the prosecution. Though she painted a detailed portrait of a man who shoved her into the corner of an elevator on their way out of a marriage counseling session, and once pinned her to the wall with his forearm in the back room of the restaurant where she worked, she had virtually no memory of killing him. Her testimony to the critical chain of events basically ends with laying out the gun. She did not remember exactly where she laid it, or whether Dino could have seen the revolver (even though she claimed he was going for it). She did not remember the holster, or how it got placed neatly on the stool. She remembered the gun going off, but none of the shots that followed, nor whether she pursued him, or why she continued to pull the trigger after Dino ran.
“That’s what you see in these cases. The battered person doesn’t just fire one shot, they empty the revolver,” says Kerrie’s lead attorney, Jimmy Berry, who has argued more than 50 murder cases. “And they often have no memory of it.” It is a doubly effective defense, at once reinforcing the possibility of Battered Women’s Syndrome while rendering its most volatile moment—the killing—virtually impenetrable to cross-examination.
To lieutenant Bagley, however, her memory at trial does not jibe with initial statements. For instance, at trial she could remember firing only the first shot. Yet in her statement on the night of the shooting, she said, “I shot and shot. He turned, went to the front door, and I shot.”
Such discrepancies prove nothing, but do raise questions about her general truthfulness, and, more importantly, as prosecutors still suggest, whether during the two years between the shooting and the trial her story had “evolved.”
“You almost wonder whether she didn’t ride in on someone else’s syndrome,” says one juror, who refused to be identified. While this juror maintains that the jury came to the proper conclusion based on the evidence they were presented, the juror said, “There were so many things that were left unanswered.”
One thing some jurors say they would like to have seen was the 39-minute videotape of Bagley’s interview with Kerrie on the night of the shooting. (Despite repeated requests, the Powder Springs Police Department would not release it to Atlanta Magazine, either.)
Furthermore, during the trial, Bagley’s investigation into whether Kerrie was involved in another relationship at the time of the shooting was not presented.
While interviewing sources, Bagley had heard mention of a man referred to only as Russ. He began running tag numbers in the parking lot of Kerrie’s family jewelry store, where Kerrie worked while out on bail. After getting a match to a man named John Russell Tisone Jr., Bagley determined that he was a regular visitor to the jewelry store. He eventually tracked down family members of Tisone, he says, and was told that they believed he had bought Kerrie’s children birthday presents as far back as the summer before the shooting.
No mention of a possible relationship ever made it into the state’s case. Nor did the input of David Capalbo, Kerrie’s boss and owner of the restaurant chain where she worked two nights a week up until the shooting. Capalbo, interviewed at his Kennesaw location, recalls that Tisone was regularly visiting Kerrie at his Powder Springs restaurant as much as six to eight months before Dino died. He remembers Tisone as a good customer who would always sit in Kerrie’s section and remain there for an hour or two at a time. He says they obviously liked one another, at least as friends, although company scuttlebutt was that they were involved.
Lead prosecutor Tom Woodward says, “Nobody could confirm the affair. We didn’t introduce it because it was all supposition. And I know this judge. He wouldn’t have allowed it.” Citing judicial impartiality, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Flournoy III declined comment for this story.
Had evidence of an affair been introduced, it might have established an element jurors say they found lacking in the state’s case for malice murder: motive. In other words, if Kerrie wasn’t afraid of her husband, then why did she shoot him?
“I THINK DINO went into that house saying he was going to fight Kerrie for custody, and that he would get Oliviah because it was going to come out [in court] that she had had an affair,” says Dino’s sister, DeNette Pace. “And I think Kerrie just freaked out and said, “No you’re not. And I’m gonna kill you.”
DeNette Pace is a massage therapist by profession, but by conviction she is the chief guardian of her brother’s memory and reputation. She writes letters to attorneys and state senators, and the ring-bound notebook she keeps flush with court papers evokes a vigorous denial of Dino as painted in the trial.
Pace did not testify. She was one of several character witnesses that prosecutors passed over for fear of what Woodward calls “baggage.”
Dino’s sister is undaunted that she could have convinced the jury that her brother, while not perfect, did not deserve his fate simply because he had a hard-drinking stepfather and an imprisoned half-brother named Rebel.
If Dino and his family were portrayed as rough trade, Kerrie’s circle seemed pious by comparison. Surrounded by family, friends and fellow church members during the trial, she carried a Bible with her and prayed during recesses. Her pastor testified on her behalf.
It’s an image that rankles Dino’s family and friends, and even Kerrie’s former boss at the time of the shooting, David Capalbo. He says she was a nice girl but had a “potty mouth,” and was a “typical party girl.” Two of Dino’s acquaintances, Robbie Turner and Jory Champion, said their group of friends was a party circle, with alleged frequent marijuana use. Sheila Lee claims Kerrie once boasted she was the black sheep of her family. And as for Kerrie trying to protect the children from Dino’s family, Lee points out Kerrie and the kids went with Dino to visit Rebel in prison three months before Dino died.
Sheila Lee claims her estranged daughter-in-law pocketed money from the dental lab, and that their own relationship came to a volatile ending when they had an argument regarding dental records. The summer before the shooting, Dino’s mother says she accused Kerrie of trying to falsify insurance forms. Kerrie stormed out, but tried through Dino to apologize the next day. Sheila Lee rebuffed her apology—which she says she now regrets—and they never spoke again.
IF THE VOLUME of a man’s contrition is any measure of his sin, then Dino had done something quite wrong to his wife. After their separation, he began writing Kerrie a series of e-mails and letters steeped in yearning and apology.
Dino’s sprawling entreaties did indeed profess their “undeniable, special” love, and he promised to do whatever it took to win her home. But they were also written apologies in which he acknowledged his past instability and insecurity, as well as “the hurt and pain I have put you through.” He wrote, “I understand what your [sic] so scared of baby,” and referred to “. . . the reality of what scares you about being with me.” He called himself “a prick” and begged her to attend counseling with him (she went three times).
Dino referred to anger-management books he had been reading and to medication for his depression. He had found solace in “scripture” and church, and said he had “walked away from the dysfunction of my family.” He would no longer question her love for him, and she need not fear him, he wrote, because without her and the baby, “I have nothing to look forward to other than my loneliness.”
However, there are outside indications that Dino Constable could instill fear in a woman. During the investigation, a former girlfriend gave a statement to Bagley that Dino had once pushed her during an argument, and that she broke off the relationship after he cheated on her. She returned a phone call requesting an interview (but refused to be identified), and said she was “not surprised to learn that Dino and Kerrie had a tumultuous relationship.” Although Dino’s best friend and fellow churchgoer, Jeff Howard, was a chief witness for the prosecution, Howard’s wife, Shelly, gave a statement to prosecutors that Kerrie once confided she was scared of Dino. A female co-worker at Chick-fil-A had filed a complaint with management that Dino was “touchy-feely” and had made inappropriate comments to her about watching porn.
Yet Dino and Kerrie did manage to find some peace after their separation. They took Jake and Oliviah to a party together only two days after they separated. They attended another party a few weeks later. But as Dino’s letters suggest, any common ground was rapidly crumbling beneath their feet. From lovelorn missives with subject lines like “I miss you” and “My hope for us,” by the middle of August his unrequited love had turned to resignation in an e-mail titled “Divorce.” It was not what he wanted, he said, and cautioned, “This could get ugly before it’s over.”
By then, Oliviah had become the focus of dispute. Dino confided to his sister his suspicions of an affair. “I defended Kerrie at first,” says DeNette. “I told him she’s got two kids and two jobs. When does she have time for an affair?”
The tension approached critical mass exactly one week before the shooting. Again, Dino had expected to pick up Oliviah at the family jewelry store. Rather than allow Dino to take her, however, Kerrie abruptly drove with the kids to Mississippi and stayed with a relative. During that trip there was a gun in the car, which Kerrie says belonged to her father, a multi-gun owner who had assured her it was unloaded.
The following Wednesday, Kerrie agreed for Dino to come by her parent’s house to see their daughter. When he arrived, he said he was going to church that evening, and asked her to come back home. When she told him no, she says he called her a “fucking whore.” She testified that later that night, reflecting on his mood swing, she decided to divorce him, although Dino’s letters make it clear that she had expressed her desire for a divorce well before then. In fact, two weeks earlier, in his “Divorce” e-mail, he begged her to reconsider, concluding with, “I have admitted my mistakes, but this is not what I want. Only what I feared.”
On Thursday morning, Kerrie went to see an attorney, “certain that Dino was going to fight me for the baby.” She had just received a payment of $6,000 from her divorce settlement with Rob Sanders, enough to cover the lawyer’s retainer. As she was leaving the office, her cell phone rang. It was Dino.
“He wished me good luck getting to court,” Kerrie testified, “if he didn’t kill me before I got there.”
That night, worried that Dino might show up at the home unannounced, she “battened down the house” and made sure the children were inside. And then Kerrie Constable told her parents that she was going to get a divorce.
That same evening, Dino called his mother.
“I got my son killed. I know I did because I gave him the backbone to stand up to her,” says Sheila Lee. Dino told her that Kerrie was threatening to keep Oliviah from him and that he feared he would have no custody rights. “I said, ‘Son you’re buying into everything she’s telling you. She’s not a judge,’ ” recalls his mother.
Dino asked her if she and his stepfather, Birdie Lee, would hire an attorney for him. She assured him that he would have representation first thing in the morning; that he could stand up to Kerrie and win his due rights as a father. He calmed down, and said he was going to have a salad and go to bed.
“Tell Pops I appreciate it and I love him,” he said.
“And I love you, mom.”
Dino hung up, and that was the last Sheila Lee ever heard from her son.
THERE IS A QUESTION those unsatisfied with the trial’s outcome continue to ask: If Kerrie was so afraid, why was she home alone? Why would she “batten down” the house on Thursday, when Dino was not expected, but on Friday, believing he’s coming over, stay there alone with the doors unlocked?
At trial, defense attorneys pointed to Terry Haas, the family friend and Cobb County detective Kerrie had first mentioned to lieutenant Bagley on the night of the shooting. Haas confirmed that Kerrie had in fact called to request that he come by because she was expecting Dino to show up. Haas was pulled away on another call at the last minute.
Haas’ testimony was critical. As juror Julie White of Roswell points out, “If she set him up, why would she be so stupid as to call a detective and then have him walk in on her murder?”
Once in the deliberation room, jurors took a poll on whether Kerrie Constable suffered from Battered Person’s Syndrome. The split was 8-4 in the affirmative. After more deliberation, however, including critically persuasive argument from at least three jurors who themselves had prior experience with abuse (one even disclosed to fellow jurors that she was at present in an abusive marriage), the vote was unanimous. After that, say jurors, Kerrie’s actions became justified by Dino’s. The state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kerrie Constable murdered her husband with malice aforethought, and all lesser included charges, such as voluntary manslaughter, basically evaporated.
THE SEIZURES FIRST came in the middle of the night when Kerrie was eight months pregnant with Oliviah. Kerrie does not actually remember the fits, only that the next morning Dino—or when she fled home, her mother—would tell her she had convulsed in her sleep. “They just called it a seizure disorder. I was never conscious or aware of them,” she says. The seizures were never diagnosed, and she hasn’t had one since “the incident.”
It is one of the few aspects of their relationship she has been willing to discuss in a 40-minute interview across the conference table at her attorney’s office. From the beginning, Kerrie has repeatedly stated that she will not talk about her life with Dino or his family. “I don’t wish any ill will to Dino’s family. I love them, in fact, and they are in my prayers daily.”
“Why did Dino want to get married?” I ask.
Reflecting for a moment, she says, “I don’t know. We were living together, and he just said he loved me and Oliviah, and wanted to get married.”
Toward the end of our interview, I ask her, “Before the shooting, did you ever feel it was going to be you or him, that you were going to have to kill Dino or he was going to kill you?”
She stares at me, agitated. “That is a ludicrous question,” she says. “My state of mind is obvious in my testimony.”
Minutes later, Kerrie Constable ends the interview.
As she walks out, I ask her about her alleged lover, Russ Tisone. “That’s my private business,” she says, offering no further comment.
Tisone did not return phone calls.
Kerrie’s attorneys claim Russ Tisone entered the picture as a bodyguard only after Dino’s death. They say he was hired by Kerrie’s father (who declined three requests for interviews) because Kerrie’s family was afraid of Dino’s family. Interestingly, court documents show Tisone was himself arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence against his own wife in 1999. They divorced in May 2001.
Last fall, a jury acquitted Kerrie of malice murder in part because there was no clear motive for her to kill Dino. While there was ample evidence of a troubled marriage that could have left her in fear, the prosecution submitted no evidence that Kerrie might have been unfaithful. And of course, jurors never know what happens after the gavel falls. This spring, almost three years after Dino’s death and a few months after the trial, Kerrie married Russ Tisone. ✦