Northeast Tarrant

'I never meant to hurt her,' says man accused of gunning down wife in Southlake

Defendant Kenneth Martin leaves a Tarrant County courtroom for a lunch recess during his murder trial Monday, April 23, 2018. Martin is accused of killing his estranged wife at an intersection in Southlake near Town Square.
Defendant Kenneth Martin leaves a Tarrant County courtroom for a lunch recess during his murder trial Monday, April 23, 2018. Martin is accused of killing his estranged wife at an intersection in Southlake near Town Square. Special to the Star-Telegram

Kenneth Martin does not dispute that he fatally shot his estranged wife as she sat in her Jeep at a busy Southlake intersection.

During testimony in Martin's trial on Monday, Tarrant County prosecutor Art Clayton helped refresh Martin's memory, replaying a conversation the suspect had with a detective after the May 31, 2016 shooting.

" 'I shot her,' " Clayton told Martin, who is on trial, charged with murdering Linda Martin, his wife. "Those were the words you used with the detective, right?"

Martin replied: "To the best of my recollection, those are the words that I used."

His trial continues Tuesday in a Tarrant County courtroom.

Martin is accused of getting out of his vehicle on Central Avenue and Southlake Boulevard, walking up to his estranged wife’s Jeep and shooting her in the face after a meeting about their pending divorce.

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A 2004 photograph of Linda Martin, 55, when she lived in Euless with her husband. Her husband is accused of shooting her to death on May 31, 2016, as she sat at a traffic signal light in Southlake. Star-Telegram archives Courtesy

She was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Earlier Monday while he was being questioned by his defense attorney, J. Warren St. John, Martin said he shot his wife by accident.

Martin said he did not realize his gun was in his hand.

Martin said he only wanted to speak with his wife in private when he walked up to her Jeep. Martin testified that he has no idea what made the gun go off.

"I was trying to get her to look at me," Martin testified. "And I remember the gun went off. I was surprised."

After the gun fired the first time, Martin said, he did not want the gun to go off again so he backed away from his wife's Jeep and fired all the remaining rounds into the ground and then threw the gun on the ground.

Martin said he then walked back to her Jeep and peered inside.

The bullet produced dozens of spiderweb cracks in the window, Martin said. Because he couldn't see through the window, he said he was unable to see if his wife had been wounded.

So Martin broke through the window with his fist.

"At that point, I can see she was hit," Martin said.

Martin backed away from the window and called 911, and walked to the front of the Jeep to get the location from the street signs, according to his testimony.

He then called his wife's daughter to tell her that he had shot her mother, Martin testified, before returning to his estranged wife.

"I unbuckled her seat belt to pull her close, and I realized she wasn't responding," Martin said. "Then I kissed her on her forehead and told her good-bye. I couldn't believe what had happened."

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Kenneth Martin, 53, of Keller Tarrant County Jail Courtesy

Rarely used his pistol

The last time he had fired the gun was in late February 2016, Martin said. He had to shoot a cow that was trying to give birth to a stillborn calf at their Navarro County ranch. The cow was alive but suffering, he testified.

"I killed the cow," Martin testified. "There was no way I could have saved her."

Martin said he put away his gun, a 40-caliber Taurus semi-automatic handgun, without engaging the safety.

Clayton asked how many times Martin had shot a gun before, and Martin estimated he had fired a weapon more than 1,000 times during his lifetime. Martin testified that he hardly ever took out his pistol aside from when he was at the ranch.

The gun was holstered inside his truck on the day he shot his wife, and Martin testified that he has no idea how it ended up in his hand.

"How is it that you swing out of your truck with a gun in your hand that you never use?" Clayton asked.

"I don't know," Martin said. "I got it out."

'She would not sign'

Just before the shooting, Martin, his wife and their attorneys were in mediation, Martin said. The Martins married in 1995 but their marriage was failing.

Martin testified that he had offered to give his wife $200,000 in cash, insurance policies, proceeds from any timber harvested from their ranch in Navarro County and ownership of all the property they owned. The only thing he wanted to keep was the business they had started together, Euless Mechanical.

Euless Mechanical was an air-conditioning and heating contracting company Martin and his wife started in their home with one employee, Martin testified. Because Martin held the license, he said, it was only logical that he maintain ownership, according to his testimony. But they could not agree on a valuation, Martin said.

By 2016, Euless Mechanical employed 15 full-time workers, and Martin said his wife estimated that the company was worth about $2 million. She would get everything else.

"But she would not sign," Martin said.

After the mediation conference at her lawyers' Southlake office, Martin saw his wife's Jeep pass by, according to his testimony.

Martin said he was confused. He was not sure whether she refused his offer because she wanted him back or that she never wanted to see him again.

It had been months since they had spoken in private, and Martin testified that he had an envelope that he wanted to give to her. All communications were supposed to go through their attorneys, but he believed they might still be able to repair their relationship, Martin said.

The envelope contained his wedding band and a picture of them on the beach in Cancun in swimwear, Martin said.

'She was my whole world'

Clayton said that Martin called himself the fixer, the mechanic, and that he believed he could fix his estranged wife and their broken relationship.

Clayton said during an interview with the detective working on the case that Martin said his wife gave him the evil eye, that she looked at him like she did not love him anymore, that she looked at him as though she didn't like him anymore.

Martin replied that he did not remember saying all of those things, but he did not disagree that he said them.

"I never meant to hurt her," Martin testified.

Martin testified that he goes to his dead wife's gravesite every week and cleans up. When he visits her grave, Martin said, he tells her that he misses her and will always love her, almost like he did when they were together before he would leave for work in the early morning.

"From the first time I saw her, I was in love," Martin said. "Every morning I would kiss her good morning on the forehead and tell her I loved her. She was my whole world."

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

Fort Worth Police and the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office are looking for these 10 fugitives. Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. Call 817-469-8477.

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