U.S. Marshal Trial Opens

U.S. Marshal Trial Opens

There was little reaction from the jurors as they viewed photos of the scene found at 42861 Hollywood Park Place in Ashburn on the morning of July 6, 2005. Only slight tightening around the mouths and shaky swallowing hinted at the content of the photos of the room and the body of Karen Ludwig. After each of the 12 jurors and two alternates passed the photos to the next person, they remained still, staring either straight ahead or kept their eyes down.

The three photos were the first pieces of evidence submitted by the Commonwealth's Attorney in the trial of John William Ludwig, the Deputy U.S. Marshal charged with first degree murder in the death of his wife.

The trial began Tuesday, July 11, at 9 a.m. with opening statements from both the commonwealth and Ludwig's attorney, Alexander Levay after a full day of jury selection Monday, July 10.

John Ludwig, who is a former police officer in Howard County, Md., and was in the Army for more than six years, is accused of killing his wife of 21 months on July 4, 2005. Ludwig, 52, called 911 around 8:30 a.m. July 6, 2005, the day after his birthday, and admitted to the shooting.

No one besides John and Karen Ludwig really knows what happened in the house on Hollywood Park Place on the night of July 4, 2005, but John Ludwig will get the chance to tell his side of the story.

Levay subtly announced John Ludwig's intent to take the stand in his own defense during his opening arguments.

"He will tell you that he has been in countless stressful situations," he said, less than a minute into his statement. "He is accustomed to handling tremendous pressures."

DURING THE OPENING arguments, both sides described the events leading up to the crime. John and Karen Ludwig attended a Fourth of July party at a friend's house in Round Hill. The couple began to leave the party around 8 p.m. because John Ludwig did not like his wife to ride her motorcycle after dark. As they were leaving, Karen Ludwig's motorcycle slipped on the grass and fell on its side. Following the incident, the couple left together. Around 10 p.m. John Ludwig called his friend, Keith Rieger, and said he and Karen were having problems, but declined the offer to stay at Rieger's home.

While both sides agreed on the general events of the evening, the accounts of what happened within the Ludwig home differed drastically.

Prosecutor Robert Vernail told the jury that Karen Ludwig was in bed when she was shot.

"She probably brushed her teeth," he said. "Put in her nighttime teeth guard."

Vernail laid out the premeditation of John Ludwig's crime, stating that before shooting Karen Ludwig, John Ludwig "walked past where she was, walked across the room to his dresser" where he pulled out a .38-caliber revolver and "walked back across the room" before he began shooting, said Vernail.

The prosecutor alleged that, while she was still in bed, Karen Ludwig was shot two times at close range, then was pulled from the bed by her husband and shot three more times, twice in the chest and once in the face.

"She was pulled out of bed by her leg," Vernail said. "Like a rag doll."

FOLLOWING THE commonwealth's account, Levay told the jury there was much more to the events of July 4 then just the actions of the evening. He painted a picture of John and Karen Ludwig's marriage, one that was turbulent and emotional.

The couple met when Karen Ludwig was dating one of John Ludwig's friends. After connecting a couple of years later at a New Year's Eve party, the couple began dating. By March 2002, Karen Ludwig had moved from Pennsylvania into John Ludwig's home in Ashburn and the two were married in October 2002.

"John fell in love with Karen," Levay said. "In the beginning he thought they were a happy and loving couple."

Shortly into the marriage, Levay said, Karen Ludwig began a pattern of verbal abuse.

"It was nothing serious to begin with, but as time went on the verbal abuse became more frequent, it became harsher," he said.

At times, Levay said, the abuse became physical and John Ludwig did not know what to do.

"He was embarrassed and ashamed of his problem," Levay said. "He wanted to keep the problem private. He was the person people came to and yet he had a problem he couldn't solve."

On the night of July 4, Levay said, Karen Ludwig blamed her husband for the incident with her motorcycle and when the couple arrived home "essentially lit into him."

John Ludwig stayed in the garage, which Levay said had become his refuge during the cycle of verbal abuse, "poured himself a stiff drink of Crown Royal whiskey and ginger ale."

Levay alleged that Karen Ludwig returned to the garage and began yelling at her husband again. After she went upstairs, John Ludwig poured himself another drink.

"He was feeling terrible, despondent," Levay said. "He did call Keith Rieger."

RIEGER, WHO TESTIFIED Tuesday about his conversation with John Ludwig the night of the crime, supported Levay's characterization of Karen Ludwig's moods and said he knew there was going to be an argument following the motorcycle incident that evening.

"I've been with John and Karen on a couple of occasions where things haven't gone totally correct or totally smoothly," he testified. "I knew from past experiences he was going to catch it. He was going to catch it in the shorts. Period."

When Rieger spoke with John Ludwig that evening he said his friend sounded "beaten."

"I've known John long enough to know when he is happy," Rieger said. "I just knew that he was, just felt like he was, a beaten puppy."

LEVAY TOLD THE jury that after John Ludwig had spoken with Rieger, he went upstairs to collect his things to move into the spare bedroom. He was removing his motorcycle boots when his wife started yelling at him again, Levay said. Levay alleged that a simple question set off Karen Ludwig.

"And now she is in his face and now she is hitting him," he said. When she "knuckles him in the ear" her husband shoves her onto the bed and stumbles backwards.

"He looks up and from over the comforter she points a gun at him," Levay said. "He thinks she is going to shoot him."

Levay said she had grabbed the gun the couple kept under the pillow for protection. In response, John Ludwig fired a gun he kept on his person for protection, said his attorney.

"Before he fired, she said, 'You're worth more dead than alive,'" Levay said.

By contrast, Vernail said in his opening remarks that the only gun in the area was the Smith and Wesson John Ludwig used, adding that Karen Ludwig had bullet wounds on her hands and wrists.

"If Karen did anything at all she reached up to protect herself," Vernail said. "She knew she was going to die."

AFTER REALIZING his wife was dead and that the safety on her gun was on, the defense said John Ludwig fell into a deep despair and decided to kill himself. He took large amounts of pain medication, muscle relaxants to "work up the nerve to blow himself in the head," Levay said.

The plan did not work, however, and instead John Ludwig fell asleep, waking not knowing where he was or what day it was. The morning of July 5, 2005, he called his mother, Shirley Ludwig, to say goodbye.

The morning of July 6, 2005, John Ludwig called his mother again, saying this time that he was sorry and telling her about the shooting.

"He said Karen had pushed his buttons," Vernail said. "He didn't say anything about Karen Ludwig having a weapon."

The defense said John Ludwig did not remember the exact circumstances of the shooting until days later, when he was already in jail.

The trial is expected to continue at least through next week.