Testimony: Sturdivant said 'I'm so sorry' over dead husband's body at funeral home

Joyce Sturdivant listens to testimony at her capital murder trial this week. She is accused of fatally shooting her husband, Joe Sturdivant Jr.

As Joyce Sturdivant viewed her husband’s body for the last time, she pulled down his collar to see where a bullet exited his neck, then draped herself over his body and uttered a tearful apology, Sturdivant’s daughter-in-law testified Thursday.

“She laid across him and said: ‘Oh, Joe. I’m so sorry. So sorry. So sorry,’ ” Rhonda Rostockyj told jurors in Sturdivant’s capital murder trial.

Sturdivant, 66, is on trial in Waco’s 54th State District Court in the Oct. 8, 2008, shooting death of her husband of almost 40 years, Joe Sturdivant Jr.

She also is on trial for reportedly trying to hire two sets of men to kill her husband in September 2007 and September 2008.

Special prosecutors Guy Cox and Alan Bennett, who called 36 witnesses during the first four days of trial, rested their case Thursday afternoon with Rostockyj’s dramatic testimony.

Rostockyj, a nurse, is married to Joyce Sturdivant’s son by a previous marriage, Joe Sullins Jr. She said she accompanied Joyce Sturdivant to a funeral home to view Joe Sturdivant’s body before it was cremated.

As they walked down the hallway, Sturdivant balked and stopped, she said. Rostockyj told her that they both needed to see the body for “closure,” so Sturdivant went in with her.

After Rostockyj repeated for the jury what Sturdivant said, the prosecutors asked for no further explanation. Defense attorneys Russ Hunt Sr. and Michelle Tuegel did not cross-examine her.

Gun residue

In other prosecution testimony Thursday, Rusty White, a forensic chemist with the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the jury that gunshot primer residue was found on the left sleeves of a blouse and jacket and the right jacket pocket that Sturdivant was wearing the day her husband was killed.

Sturdivant has been taking notes throughout the trial and writing with her left hand.

While White said he could draw no definitive conclusion that she fired a weapon that day from the test results, he said the most likely way for the residue to have been deposited on her clothes was for her to have recently fired or handled a weapon.

In cross-examination from Tuegel, White told jurors that gunshot residue could be transferred to someone’s clothing if they touch a surface with residue on it or are around an area where a number of guns are stored.

Other testimony revealed that Joe Sturdivant was a gun collector and may have kept as many as 75 guns at his South Robinson Drive home.

Rocky relationship

Sullins, Joyce Sturdivant’s son who helps operate the family’s transmission repair service on South 18th Street, testified that his relationship with his mother has deteriorated since his stepfather was killed.

Sullins told the jury about two lawsuits that he and his mother are embroiled in against each other, including one in which he alleged that she was not entitled to Sturdivant’s estate, his $85,000 life insurance policy or the $280,000 she tried to sell the business for because she killed him.

Sullins said he feared that Sturdivant she was trying to squeeze him out of what he sees as his share of the business and accused his mother of embezzling money from the shop. He also said she lied to him about the amount of insurance proceeds she collected after her husband’s death.

“After I figured out she murdered Dad, I filed the wrongful death claim against her to keep her from taking everything away from me,” he said.

In 2009, Sullins tried to get his mother committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment of what he claimed was her addiction to pain pills. His attempt was unsuccessful, he said.

Under cross-examination, Sullins’ demeanor turned edgy, as Hunt continued to suggest that he had ample motive and opportunity to kill Joe Sturdivant.

He said he was at work all day the day his stepfather was murdered, with the possible exceptions of taking a few cars out for short tests drives after they had been repaired.

“Do you know why Doc would think that you murdered your Dad?” Hunt asked, referring to Ali Abdulla Mohammed, who testified Wednesday that Joyce Sturdivant hired him and another man to kill her husband during a home invasion in September 2007.

“You have approximately $280,000 worth of motivation to see that Joyce Sturdivant gets convicted of capital murder, don’t you?” Hunt said.

“Yes, but at that point I was just trying to get her the help she needed,” Sullins said of his application for emergency commitment order. “And, no, I don’t think it is fair that she gets anything from my father’s estate because she killed him.”

Sullins denied saying that he wished Joe Sturdivant would die or get killed.

But Carl Ratliff, a five-year employee at Sturdivant Transmission Service, said he heard Sullins say that he wished someone would kill Joe Sturdivant.

Ratliff and another shop employee, James Hardin, also told the jury that on the next work day after Sturdivant’s death, Sullins came to work, jumped out of his truck, walked over to them and said, “I have an alibi.”

Both men thought it was strange, since the unsolicited comment was the first thing he said that morning.

Ratliff, Hardin and at least two current or former Sturdivant employees said Joe and Joyce Sturdivant seemed to have a loving relationship and that it never occurred to any of them that Joyce Sturdivant had a drug addiction problem.

Mohammed testified Wednesday that he sold pain pills to Sturdivant, adding that she needed them because Joe Sturdivant abused her.

The four shop employees said they never saw any signs that Joyce Sturdivant was being physically abused.

Defense testimony continues this morning.

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