Fort Worth man gets 43 years in prison for killing wife

FORT WORTH -- A 50-year-old man who has spent most of his adult life behind bars has been sentenced to 43 more years in prison for killing his wife five months after he was paroled last year.

Tommie Chatton was initially charged with capital murder in the stabbing death of Deborah Campbell Chatton. They were married by proxy in 1999 while he was serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery.

Chatton was allowed to plead guilty to murder, largely because relatives of Deborah Chatton's 11-year-old granddaughter did not want the girl to have to testify at his trial, senior prosecutor Bob Gill said.

"She would have been the central witness for the state," Gill said. "That's 90 percent of the reason he pled."

The girl was in the Chattons' southeast Fort Worth home on July 21 when Tommie Chatton became enraged, Gill said. After two visiting friends ran from the house, Deborah Chatton and the granddaughter tried to call 911 as Chatton punched and hit her, he said.

When the granddaughter also ran from the house, Gill said, Chatton picked up a knife and stabbed his wife. There were about 50 stab and cut wounds, he said.

"It was very brutal," Gill said.

The family supported the plea agreement because Chatton will not be eligible for parole until he is at least 70.

"That basically ensures that Chatton will never get out of prison," Gill said. "The family is very much relieved to get it behind them."

A history of problems

Chatton first went to prison in July 1978 when he was 18 for an aggravated robbery in Dallas County. He later got four extra years for assaulting a correctional officer.

He was granted parole in June 2003, but it was revoked in June 2004, Gill said, after Chatton's mother accused him of threatening to kill her during an argument over money.

He was paroled again Feb. 17, 2009.

Gill said Deborah Chatton was the only person who believed in her husband. Relatives and friends had begged her to get away from him, he said.

When police responded to the 911 call from the Chattons' house the morning of the slaying, Gill said, officers found Chatton with a knife by his side.

He was indicted on a capital murder charge because he was retaliating against his wife for trying to call police, Gill said.

Defense attorney Jack Strickland acknowledged that Chatton has a "checkered history" of violent crime and a "volatile" temper aggravated by a history of substance abuse and mental problems.

"But I do think that the horrible severe nature of what he did began to sink it," Strickland said. "It was terrible all the way around, especially since the victim tried to be supportive of Mr. Chatton. This lady stood by him for a long time. Sometimes you wind up hurting the one who cares for you the most."

By the time the plea agreement was reached, Chatton was genuinely remorseful, Strickland said.

"He realized that it was unlikely that he'd ever be released from the penitentiary," he said.

MARTHA DELLER, 817-390-7857