By Emanuella Grinberg
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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Court TV ) -- A jury took less than two hours Thursday to convict a woman and the lover she was hiding in her closet of first-degree murder for beating and strangling her husband.
Martha Freeman, 41, bowed her head at the defense table as the jury foreman read aloud the verdict for the death of her husband, Jeffrey Freeman, whose body was discovered in the bathroom of their home on April 11, 2005.
Co-defendant Rafael Rocha-Perez remained stoic even as Judge Randall Wyatt handed down mandatory life sentences for their roles in the 44-year-old victim's death.
Davidson County prosecutors said the speed of the verdict reaffirmed the strength of their case, which defense attorneys criticized for its lack of direct evidence.
"This verdict is a rejection of the defense attacks on the police and on an innocent man who died in an awfully brutal manner," said deputy assistant attorney general Tom Thurman.
Prosecutors conceded in closing arguments Thursday that they could not pin down the exact time Jeffrey Freeman died or the specific role either defendant played in his death.
Even so, they insisted that evidence of a relationship between Martha Freeman and Rocha-Perez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, coupled with their behavior after the murder, proved their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"It's very easy to think of the steps up to committing a crime, but it's very difficult to think about what to do after committing the offense," Davidson County prosecutor J. W. Hupp told the panel of eight women and four men Thursday afternoon.
Wrapped victim in garbage bag
The night after her husband was killed, Martha Freeman picked up an antidepressant prescription at a Walgreen's drug store and called her in-laws to tell them their son was too sick to talk.
While Jeffrey Freeman's body lay in the bathroom with a garbage bag wrapped around his bruised and bloodied head for nearly a day, Hupp said, the defendants cleaned up the crime scene and eliminated any blood or fingerprint evidence that would link them to his body.
Even so, they left behind two garbage bags filled with wet bath mats and a bloody pillowcase, none of which was tested for trace evidence, a detective testified Thursday morning.
Police also found a foam mattress, a Spanish-English translator and clothing with Rocha-Perez's DNA in a closet in a spare bedroom of the home. They found a bag containing nude pictures of Rocha-Perez, lingerie and a book of sexual positions.
The pair also left behind a towel containing both of their DNA.
"Maybe they were lying on their towel having sex when Jeffrey Freeman came in and caught them in the act," Hupp said. "Or maybe the sex on the towel was to celebrate the fact they murdered Jeffrey."
Martha Freeman's defense attorney Rich McGee labeled the suggestion yet another "nasty" and "inflammatory" theory in a case scarce on evidence.
"Every one of you is the judge of the facts in this case," McGee said. "When you start talking theories and not facts, you're asking someone to make a decision based on guesses."
Defense: Adultery not a crime
McGee said his client never denied her affair with Rocha-Perez, but reminded the jury that Freeman was not on trial for adultery.
"If Martha Freeman was on trial for immoral conduct, this would be a pretty open-and-shut case, but an affair doesn't lead to a murder conviction," McGee said.
A lawyer for Rocha-Perez, who characterized his client as an easy and "disposable" target for the investigation because of his immigration status, expressed his surprise with the verdict.
"As far as who killed Jeffrey Freeman, I don't think that was ever answered," said Peter Strianse, who said he was hired by Rocha-Perez's fellow immigrant bricklayers. "I think they could have done much more to establish where people were in the relevant time period."
Relatives of Jeffrey Freeman clutched hands and smiled as the verdicts were rendered, but did not linger after the proceedings finished.
"This is a new day for the Freeman family," said attorney Frank Slaughter, who is representing the parents of Jeffrey Freeman in battles over his estate. "The jury's verdict today is a validation of Jeffrey Freeman's life."
Rahael Rocha-Perez met Martha Freeman at a July 4 party and later moved into her closet.