Carthage Man Sentenced in Wife's Slaying
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
A Carthage man who pleaded guilty to his wife's slaying did not succeed in convincing the court he should get a lighter sentence.
In a sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon, Gale Lynn Frye was sentenced to between 10 and 13 years in prison. With credit for time served, he will spend at least the next seven-and-a -half years behind bars.
Frye originally had been set to stand trial for the slaying of 76-year-old Bertha Frye on Feb. 12, 2010. However, at an earlier competency hearing, Judge Joseph E. Turner found Frye unable to assist in his defense, so he was taken to a state mental hospital.
Experts later declared that Frye had improved to the point where he could enter a plea in his case. On Tuesday, he took a plea deal before Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb.
According to Carthage police, Frye called 911 and asked EMS to come and "resuscitate" his wife. When paramedics reached the Frye residence at 396 Simpson Road in Carthage, they found Bertha Frye already dead from a single gunshot wound to the head.
After questioning him for several hours, officers arrested Frye and charged him with murder.
Frye, 69, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Under his plea deal, the state reduced the charge from first-degree murder and left the sentence to the court, depending on whether mitigating evidence would be offered and accepted.
His attorney, Robert Trenkle, was given time to gather evidence to help lower a potential sentence. Thursday afternoon, Bertha Frye's family and friends gathered on one side of the courtroom as Gayle Frye's gathered on the other. Webb estimated there to be more than 200 people in the courtroom.
Testifying for prosecutors, Carthage police officer Lt. Robbie Mabe said that when he showed up at the Fryes' home, he found Mrs. Frye in a back bedroom.
"I could tell that blood on the floor had been attempted to be cleaned up. There were swirl marks," he testified.
Mabe used crime scene photos as he described what he saw that day.
"I saw a rifle lying on the footstool or ottoman to the right of the victim," he said. "This is a picture of Bertha lying on the floor. You could tell from her clothing, which was in disarray, that she had been moved. You could see where the blood had been cleaned up from the swirl marks. This is a picture of the bathroom where the sink has blood on it."
Mabe said the rifle was used to shoot the victim.
District Attorney Maureen Krueger handed other color photos to the officer. He described what had been found in the fireplace - rags, a box - that somebody had tried to burn.
"Mr. Frye was there - sitting in his recliner - inside the home," Mabe said. "I asked Mr. Frye if he would come back to the Moore County Sheriff's Office to talk with me, and he agreed. I spent about five hours with him."
Mabe testified that Frye made several statements to him about what occurred.
According to Mabe, Frye said, "I took the gun to Bertha, gave Bertha the gun and the gun went off. If I had been closer, she would have shot me. She got snappy with me. I stepped back to the closet, and I shot. When I shoot, I don't miss. I thought she was trying to shoot me."
Mabe said he found no evidence that the gun had been fired more than once.
"He told you multiple times that the victim fired at him first," the judge said. "Did he abandon that?"
"He said, 'She got snappy with me. I eased the gun back and shot her,'" Mabe said. "He said he went back to the sunroom, got the gun, and handed her the gun. He said he got the gun from her, eased back, and shot her."
Trenkle, the defense attorney, offered three police reports of domestic violence. The first was from April 2001.
On June 22 of that year, another report said Bertha Frye had found her husband's loaded shotgun in the house and threatened to shoot him with it. While she was outside getting a beer, he hid the shotgun.
Nineteen people were present on behalf of Bertha Frye, by a bailiff's count at Webb's request. More than 40 people were there on behalf of Gayle Frye.
Krueger called Doris Hickman, the victim's daughter. She testified that her mother was not in good health at the time of her death.
She described the last Thanksgiving dinner with her mother, in that house in Carthage - a time her mother had told her might be her last.
"Momma was good," she said. "She wasn't this mean person that everyone thinks she was. Momma had a good heart. She loved her family. She loved us. And she loved Gayle."
Trenkle called Ken Suggs, a retired magistrate of 30 years on the bench who said he'd known the defendant for at least half a century.
"To me, he's one of the best," Suggs said. "He is a painter, and he has painted my house twice. He is honest, a law-abiding citizen, and does wonderful work."
Trenkle presented several additional character witnesses, and then told Webb, "Without a doubt, this is a tragedy.
"Consider Gayle Frye's character. I probably could have called 20 more people."
But Krueger said the victim "was scared. She feared for her life. People witnessed firsthand that the defendant was abusive toward her. The defense would like us to believe this was a tragic accident. The defendant's own statement says, 'She got snappy with me. I eased back away from her, and I shot. When I shoot, I don't miss.'
"She doesn't deserve death for being snappy. This was not a tragic accident."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell@ gmail.com.
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