Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross
Deputy District Attorney Donald Dorfman wanted a first-degree murder conviction and on August 30, 1964, he began his opening statements to the jury. Dorfman accused Theresa of murdering her husband in cold blood and insisted she had concocted the allegations of self-defense in order to spare herself a prison sentence. The murder, in Dorfman's opinion, was committed because of Theresa's suspicions that her husband was committing adultery. Afterwards, Theresa's attorney, Robert Zarick, argued that Theresa acted out of self-defense and was only protecting herself and her unborn child.
One of the first witnesses called to the stand was Dr. Arthur Wallace, the man who performed Clifford Sanders' autopsy. Wallace testified that there were no powder burns on the body and blood tests revealed no presence of alcohol. He described the injuries to Sanders body and testified that the .30-30 caliber slug had passed through Sanders wrist before embedding itself in his heart. "It was my assumption, and I believe this is very correct, that the deceased apparently had his hand in some position in front of his chest," Wallace said. "The fact that it lodged within the soft tissues of the heart shows that its momentum was considerably slowed when it struck the chest." Following Wallace's testimony, a criminologist testified that the .30-30 caliber rifle found at the scene was the murder weapon.
Police Chief Walter Froehlich described the crime scene and events leading up to Theresa's arrest. Rapping up the prosecution's side, Dorfman questioned several of Sanders' relatives in an effort to show the victim was not a violent or abusive person.
Surprisingly, Theresa briefly took the stand and testified on her own behalf. She told the jury a tearful story of physical abuse and claimed her husband was a violent alcoholic. Mental health counselor Dr. Leroy Wolter described Theresa as anxious, remorseful, and frightened. It was his opinion that she acted in self-defense and was not capable of committing a cold-blooded and calculated crime. Friends and relatives enforced Wolter's testimony and described Theresa as a sweet young girl, who did not know what she was getting into when she married Sanders.
Closing arguments began on September 21, 1964. Dorfman repeated his opening statements and accused Theresa of murdering her husband out of jealousy. "This is clearly premeditated first-degree murder," he told the jury. "Not every murderer can look like the witch in 'Snow White.' She is 18 and pregnant, but that doesn't overcome the fact she maliciously shot and killed her husband without provocation."
On September 22, after deliberating for one hour and 45 minutes, the jury found Theresa Jimmie Francine Sanders not guilty. Dorfman was dumbstruck by the verdict. Whether he realized it at the time or not, the loss would eventually come back to haunt him.