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Rhonda Stewart sentencing could set precedent for murder trials

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A woman who shot and killed her husband learned her fate on Tuesday, and her sentence could set a standard for abuse victims in future murder trials.

"I am trying to accept responsibility by pleading guilty," said Rhonda Stewart in Kanawha County Court on Tuesday.

Stewart shot and killed her husband inside a hospital in 2009. She was sentenced to 10 years of home confinement, with a credit for the four years she's already served. This is the minimum penalty for a second-degree murder sentence.

Stewart's daughters testified in court, describing how Stewart's husband abused her repeatedly.  

A forensic psychologist said the domestic violence caused Stewart to suffer from sever depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and battered women's syndrome. She said she believes Stewart intended to kill herself in the hospital but shot her husband accidentally.

Kanawha County prosecutor Mark Plants said the factor of abuse could play a role in future murder trials, with the Rhonda Stewart case acting as a precedent.

"Now the floodgates are open for any abuse, in any murder case, no matter the time, no matter the place, is now going to be admissible," Plants said. "Any time we have a murder case between husband and wife, this definitely is going to be a defense tactic used more in the future."

But Sue Julian with the West Virginia Coalition against Domestic Violence said the evidence of abuse allows judges to view cases in greater context. She said she doubts true victims would cry foul to further their case.

"Victims of domestic violence feel so shamed by what has happened to them that, in my experiences, there are very few people who use domestic violence as a way of moving through the court system," Julian said.

13NEWS spoke to a survivor of domestic abuse who killed her husband more than 20 years. Sara Monroe, of Mullens, W.Va., was sentenced to one year home confinement for involuntary manslaughter. Monroe said she knows how years of abuse can affect a person.

"You're not focused on reality, you're running on pure instincts," Monroe said. "When you're beat on every day and abused in one form or another ...you come to your breaking point."