Cash testifies Tuesday that shooting was an accident
January 17, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Before the defense rested its case Tuesday, Robert Cash told a jury that he did not mean for his gun to go off and that he was not aiming it at his former wife, Rhonda Heaton.
"I don't remember squeezing the trigger or anything," Cash said.
In an effort to convince a jury that he did not intend to murder his wife, Cash chose to take the stand and tell his version of the events that led to his wife's shooting and his self-inflicted gunshot wound in June 2010. In several areas, his account contradicted Heaton's testimony from Friday.
Cash testified that before Heaton was shot June 11, 2010, he took a shot of whiskey and tried to kill himself by taking 30 to 35 pills of antidepressants, which left him "kind of in a fog."
"I was thinking that I wanted to have enough to do the job," Cash said. "I thought they would kill me."
The couple had been married for nearly five years, and Heaton had filed for a divorce but still was living with Cash.
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"I was devastated by it," Cash said. "I didn't want a divorce. I still loved her."
The night before the shooting, Cash said he was lying in bed with his wife and touched her on the lower back.
"She asked me to quit because she felt uncomfortable," Cash said. "I felt ashamed because apparently I scared her, and I was mad at myself because it happened and … to scare someone you love is shock, and I realized that."
Cash said that the next day he moved into a spare bedroom at Heaton's request. The couple did not speak that evening, Cash said, and he denied mumbling or cursing under his breath like Heaton described.
Cash said he woke up depressed between 4:30 and 5 a.m. June 11 and went into the garage and took a shot of whiskey.
"I came back in the house, and I already decided to kill myself, so I took some pills," Cash said.
Cash said he had lost his job at City Market, where he had worked for more than 11 years. He said that he and Heaton were about to lose their home and that he was abusing alcohol again. Cash said that he was being divorced and that he felt like a failure who "couldn't do anything right."
"I know with what happened the previous night that there was no way that we could get back together because she was afraid of me," Cash said. "I knew she had her boyfriend. There was no hope at all in getting back together."
Cash said that the pills he took that morning left him shaky, confused, nauseated and in a fog but that it was not the result he expected.
"I thought they would be more effective as far as I would go to sleep and not wake up," Cash said.
He decided to shoot himself instead.
"I cocked the gun and started to pull (the trigger), but it was too hard for me to pull at the angle I was using," Cash said.
He then decided to shoot himself in Heaton's room.
"It was in my confused state," Cash said. "I thought it would be better for her to understand why I shot myself if she saw me there."
Cash said the gun went off when he walked toward the bed, but he did not mean for it to go off.
"I was terrified," Cash said. "My ears were ringing from the gunshot. I was confused and scared."
Cash said that he did not remember where the gun was pointed when it fired and that he did not realize the bullet had hit her.
"She didn't move, so I assumed it did," Cash said.
He said he came back to the room once.
"I didn't come back to the room to see if she was dead," Cash said. "I went back to the room to say goodbye. I stood there, put my hand on her leg and said goodbye."
Cash said he did not call for help because he assumed she was dead.
Heaton told a different story during her testimony Friday.
She said that she asked Cash to call for help and that he said no. She said when she asked him why, Cash responded, “Cause I want you to die so you can't destroy anyone's life like mine.”
She said that after being shot, she held her breath while Cash returned to the room three or four times and asked her whether she was dead. During one visit, Heaton said Cash told her "at least you died with your pants on" and then laughed. The final time Cash came in the room, Heaton said he put a sheet or towel over her head.
After being shot, it may have been four hours before Heaton received medical treatment.
During Cash's testimony, Heaton sat in the gallery with her head down and eyes shut while holding hands with friends as she silently mouthed words.
Upon cross-examination, Routt County Chief Deputy District Attorney Rusty Prindle challenged Cash on his statements that he was not thinking clearly. Prindle asked about his ability to write a suicide note — which included phone numbers for relatives, the date and time — after shooting Heaton in the neck and before shooting himself in the chest.
"I just put a time down," Cash said. "I didn't know what time it was. That was probably my third or fourth note."
In addition to Cash's testimony, the jury also heard from a firearms expert called by the defense who said he thought the bullet recovered from Heaton had ricocheted.
"Something impacted that bullet, and it had kind of a rough texture," expert Paul Paradis said.
The defense and prosecution are expected to make their closing arguments Wednesday morning before the jury begins its deliberations. Cash is charged with first-degree attempted murder and crime of violence. The jury will be able to consider a less serious offense.
— To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com