A LaFayette, Ga., man accused of killing his wife and trying to hide her death pleaded guilty Thursday.
Steven Marcus Denson, 43, agreed to a sentence of life with the possibility of parole on counts of felony murder and aggravated assault. The Walker County Sheriff's Office arrested Denson in November 2015 on charges he shot his wife, Christina Michelle Carroll Denson, in the neck with a .22-caliber handgun.
According to an incident report, Steven Denson left his dead wife in the bedroom for 24-36 hours. The investigation began after he asked a friend to come look at stuff he was selling at his house on the 1900 block of Kemp Road, a rural area southeast of LaFayette.
Steven Denson talked to the friend for a couple of minutes.
"Denson became emotional," a sheriff's office investigator wrote in his report, "and told the witness that he had shot his wife."
Investigators found Christina Denson in the bedroom, and she appeared to have been dead for more than a day. Later, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said, Steven Denson admitted to killing his wife.
He said the shooting was an accident. He said they were in the bedroom around 11 p.m. on a Thursday, and he heard rustling outside. People had been prowling near their home, which backs up to woods, several times in recent weeks. He figured this, too, was a trespasser. He said he grabbed the .22 off his wife's nightstand, even though he was a convicted felon and was not supposed to be around guns.
He said he and his wife got up to check out what was going on outside. They bumped into each other, and the gun went off. He later realized the rustling outside came from some dogs.
His defense attorney, Chris Townley, said Steven Denson knew he needed to tell his parents and his in-laws what happened. He wanted to tell them before calling the police, but he was scared.
According to a news release from Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, Steven Denson put Christina Denson's vehicle in the woods so people would think she wasn't home. He cleaned the floor after the shooting and dressed Christina Denson in new clothes.
"He claimed all along it was an accidental-type shooting," Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said. "Our question all along was: Why did you clean her up, redress her and keep her in the bed for two days? I don't know if we ever got an answer to that."
Franklin said in the release that Christina Denson told her friends her husband pulled a gun on her sometimes. Her father, Steve Carroll, said he had never heard about any issues between them.
"I probably would have done something about it," he said. "I'm not a mean man, but I could have stopped it at least. My daughter, I never thought she would have even lived in that situation. I guess you don't ever know."
He said Christina Denson, 38, had two daughters and four grandchildren. She worked as a shipping and receiving clerk at United Synthetic Industries. She spent her free time outdoors, camping and swimming and going for boat rides when the weather was warm enough.
Townley said Steven Denson maintained that the shooting was an accident. But at the same time, he acknowledged that he was at fault for her death. His trial was going to begin Monday. But this week, he decided he didn't want to go through it.
"He felt he had caused [his wife's family] enough pain by causing her death," Townley said. "He didn't want to cause them any more pain."
Steven Denson will be eligible for parole in 2045. Carroll said he didn't apologize during the plea hearing, preferring to have his attorney speak for him.
"How do you apologize for murdering your daughter?" Carroll said. "I don't want to hear it. I'm sorry. I just can't accept that. I'll probably never lay eyes on him again."
"Steven's downfall was alcohol and drugs, and he would admit that himself," his cousin, Donna Fincher, told the Times Free Press in an email Friday night. "I have not seen or spoke to him.on the phone one time without him crying and he is very remorseful ... My prayers are that Christy's family will one day be able to forgive him and that both families will be able to heal."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
This story was updated with an additional quote that was received from a source after initial publication.