Joyce Sturdivant woke up Oct. 8, 2008, shot her husband of almost 40 years in the back of the head and in the back while he slept, made a pot of coffee and went to work like it was any other day, a special prosecutor told jurors Monday.
At work at Sturdivant’s Transmission Service, she acted like nothing had happened, then she went home, called Robinson police and said someone killed her husband, the prosecutor said.
Four current or former Robinson police officers testified Monday afternoon to open Joyce Sturdivant’s capital murder and attempted capital murder trial in Waco’s 54th State District Court.
Joyce Sturdivant, 66, is on trial on charges that she killed her husband, former champion stock car driver Joe Sturdivant Jr., to collect on an $85,000 life insurance policy.
She also is on trial for allegedly hiring Carlos Garcia and Chris Taylor to kill her husband in September 2008 by promising them $20,000 worth of her jewelry. That plot did not materialize, special prosecutor Alan Bennett told the jury in opening statements.
But an initial alleged murder-for-hire scheme played out a little differently, said Bennett, who is prosecuting the case with Waco attorney Guy Cox because McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna formerly represented one of the alleged hit men.
Sturdivant, Bennett said, hired Ali Abdulla Mohammed and Christopher Chatman to kill her husband on Sept. 27, 2007.
Sturdivant told the men that her husband would be sleeping soundly because she put some sleeping medication in her husband’s drink, Bennett said. She also told them she would put up the couple’s dogs so they would not bark and alert her husband, he said. Chatman was standing over Joe Sturdivant’s bed when the burly 68-year-old woke up and started fighting.
“Joe Sturdivant put up quite a fight,” Bennett said. “In fact, Mr. Chatman will tell you he was scared to death. He didn’t get away until he struck Mr. Sturdivant in the head several times with the butt of his gun.”
As Chatman fled the house, he dropped a knife, and officials were able to match DNA on the knife to Chatman and Mohammed, Bennett said.
After the home invasion, Joyce Sturdivant called 9-1-1. She told police that she was in the bathroom when the intruder entered their South Robinson Drive home and knocked her unconscious by a blow to the head.
But there were no physical signs that she had been struck in the head, Bennett said.
After the botched first attempt, Joyce Sturdivant still was determined to find someone to kill her husband, Bennett told the jury. She enlisted friends who helped her recruit Garcia and Taylor, he said. But they reported the alleged plot to police, who recovered rings she reportedly gave them to pay for their services, Bennett said.
“That attempt also was not successful,” Bennett said. “Joyce Sturdivant decided she was going to have to take matters into her own hands.”
After her husband was shot, authorities recovered gunshot residue from the left sleeves of her blouse and jacket, Bennett said, possibly indicating she fired a weapon.
Waco attorney Michelle Tuegel, who is representing Sturdivant with Russ Hunt Sr., told jurors in opening statements that Sturdivant loved her husband, who was asleep in his bed when she left for the transmission shop on South 18th Street that she helped him operate for almost 40 years.
When Sturdivant got home that evening, she found grass tracked into her home, drawers and cabinets open and her home a mess, Tuegel said.
She went into the bedroom, where her husband was still in bed, Tuegel said. She tried to wake him up but he was not responsive, Tuegel said, adding that Sturdivant feared he might have suffered a fifth heart attack.
When she got closer, she saw her husband lying in a pool of blood, Tuegel said.
She said Joe Sturdivant was shot with two different gun types, suggesting two gunmen in the case.
Tuegel also said police found 72 weapons in the house because Joe Sturdivant was a gun collector.
That could explain how Joyce Sturdivant got the gunpowder residue on her clothes, Tuegel said, saying the trace evidence can stay on clothes a long time and that she could have gotten it there simply by moving one of the guns to dust beneath it.
Prosecution testimony continues this morning.