Victim Rhonda Heaton testifies in first-degree attempted murder trial
January 13, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Afraid that her husband was still in the house and willing to shoot her again, Rhonda Heaton told a jury Friday that she spent four hours thinking she was going to die.
"I asked him to call an ambulance or the police," Heaton said. "He said, 'No,' and I asked why; 'Cause I want you to die so you can't destroy anyone's life like mine.' He said he wasn't going to put up with me telling my new boyfriend that I loved him."
By calling Heaton to testify, prosecutors attempted to prove Friday that Heaton's former husband, Robert Cash, intended to kill her on June 11, 2010, at their west Steamboat Springs home. Cash is charged with first-degree attempted murder and crime of violence, both felonies.
Cash's defense team is contending that the shooting wasn't premeditated and that the bullet actually may have richocheted off another object before striking Heaton in the back of the neck.
Friday was the fifth day of the trial, which is scheduled to resume Tuesday and end Wednesday.
For nearly three hours Friday, Heaton recalled with great emotion the details surrounding the shooting. Cash cried during parts of his ex-wife's testimony.
The day before the shooting, Heaton said she called Cash and wanted him to move out of their bedroom. The couple was in the midst of a divorce, and Heaton said she felt violated by the way Cash had touched her the previous night.
"I was too afraid to go home … because of what had happened that morning," Heaton testified.
Heaton went home after work and said Cash had moved some of his things into a different bedroom.
"He was upset," Heaton said. "He was mumbling under his breath the whole time."
Heaton said Cash did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and she said she went to bed at about 10 p.m. that night. She was awakened at about 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
"The bedroom door opened and I could hear Bob walk in the room," said Heaton, who at one point laid on the floor of the Routt County Justice Center courtroom to show jurors how she was laying when she was shot. "He wasn't supposed to come back in, and I was startled."
She said Cash walked around the bed beyond her field of vision, and that she "felt a hard impact and pain."
"I said, 'Bob, what was that?,'" Heaton said. "He said, 'I shot you.' There was no emotion."
After Cash refused to call for help, Heaton said he left the room.
"He was playing with the dogs in the living room and throwing the ball down the hallway," Heaton said.
She said Cash returned three or four times to see if she was dead.
"He asked me if I was gone yet," Heaton said. "I held my breath and pretended I was dead. … I couldn't feel anything, and my whole body was like numb, like some kind of electrical shock was happening, and I didn't want to change positions because then he'd know I was still alive."
At one point, Cash checked to see if she had a pulse, Heaton said. When Cash returned to the bedroom a third time, Heaton said, "He asked me if I was gone yet, if I was gone all the way. I should be gone by now."
"He slapped me on the back and said, 'At least you died with your pants on,' and then he laughed," Heaton said.
She said before Cash left the room the final time, he covered her head with a blanket or towel and shut the door.
She then heard a knock and another gunshot, which she would later learn was the police knocking on her front door and Cash shooting himself in the chest in the adjoining bedroom.
Heaton said 20 or 30 minutes later she crawled to the bathroom still unsure where her husband was. She knocked her cellphone off the bathroom sink.
"I was terrified he would come back in, and if I wasn't where I was supposed to be he would know I was alive and shoot me again," Heaton said.
She could not use her hands and tried calling 911 with her elbow. Heaton dialed a friend instead and left a voicemail.
"I didn't know if I should leave a message because if it was the last thing I said, I knew it would be so hard on her," Heaton said.
Police were able to reach Heaton on her cellphone and they later entered the house. Cash was handcuffed and taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center along with Heaton. She underwent surgery to stabilize her spine. She walked slowly with assistance from a cane Friday.
On cross examination, Routt County Public Defender Sheryl Uhlmann tried to point out inconsistencies between Heaton's testimony and what she told police after the incident. Heaton said she did not mention some of the details to the officers immediately after the shooting.
"I was more concerned with being shot," she said.
Heaton also acknowledged that previous to the shooting, there were no instances of Cash threatening or hurting her. Heaton and Cash were married in November 2005, and Heaton filed for divorce in April 2010.
Routt County Chief Deputy District Attorney Rusty Prindle and District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham called their last witnesses Friday. Uhlmann began her case by calling police officers to the stand Friday afternoon.
It is not known whether Cash will testify next week.