Local News

Defense: 'Fatal attraction' led to slaying of mortician's wife

Posted September 24, 2008 6:07 a.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2008 7:45 p.m. EDT

— A woman desperate for a romantic relationship with a Rocky Mount funeral home owner killed his wife two years ago on her own, a defense attorney told jurors Wednesday as the man's murder trial began.

Mark Bowling, the former owner of several Bowling Funeral Home operations in eastern North Carolina, is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the Dec. 8, 2006, shooting death of his wife, Julie Bowling.

The trial was moved to Pitt County because the intense publicity around the case in Nash County made it difficult to find impartial jurors. About a dozen relatives of Julie Bowling and several of Mark Bowling's family members attended the first day of testimony.

Rose Vincent, Bowling's former mistress, pleaded guilty in February to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and has agreed to testify against him.

Vincent, who is serving at least 29 years in prison, admitted that she gunned down Julie Bowling in the garage of the Bowling home but said Mark Bowling had provided her with a map and instructions on how to carry out the crime while he was away on a scuba-diving trip. She told investigators that she and Mark Bowling were having an affair and that he asked her to kill his wife so they could be together.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Thomas Moore said Vincent killed Julie Bowling on her own because she couldn't be without Mark Bowling.

A medical condition made it difficult for Mark and Julie Bowling to be intimate, Moore said, so Mark Bowling had several affairs and used escort services. But he refused to leave his wife for Vincent, and she couldn't handle that, he said.

"Rose wanted to be Julie. (The slaying) was not Mark's idea; it was Rose's idea," Moore said. "This was a fatal attraction, and ... Rose and Rose only killed Julie."

Assistant Nash County District Attorney Keith Werner told the eight-woman, four-man jury that Bowling and Vincent had had an off-and-on romantic relationship for years and that they agreed in early 2006 "to eliminate Julie by killing her."

Bowling tried to get Vincent to kill his wife several times, but she told him she couldn't go through with it, Werner said. It was only after he continued to implore her that she finally carried out the crime, he said.

"Mark told her to pull trigger until it stopped," Werner said.

Linda Gardner, who worked with Julie Bowling, said she went to check on her co-worker on Dec. 8, 2006, because she hadn't shown up for work. Mark Bowling had called his wife's work that morning, saying he couldn't reach his wife, she said.

"I thought she was just unconscious when I first saw her," Gardner said of finding the body in the garage.

A few weeks earlier, Julie Bowling told Gardner and other co-workers that she thought her husband was having her followed, Gardner testified. She told the group that people should suspect Mark Bowling if anything ever happened to her, Gardner said.

"Nobody really commented when she said that," she testified.

Jurors looked over 13 photos of the crime scene as Nash County Medical Examiner Amy Nash testified about Julie Bowling's slaying. Julie Bowling already had her name badge on and was ready for work at the funeral home when she was shot several times in the chest and abdomen, Nash said.

Bowling sobbed as the photos were passed around.

Earlier Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Quentin Sumner denied some defense motions to limit evidence presented by prosecutors.

Defense attorneys argued that DNA evidence found on a chair in the Bowling home be thrown out, saying Mark Bowling's DNA would be expected in his home.

"What does it prove or disprove?" defense attorney Thomas Sallenger asked.

Werner said Bowling admitted to having sex with Vincent in the chair but that tests showed DNA recovered from the chair didn't match Vincent or Julie Bowling.

Sallenger and Moore also asked that stripper Ashley Brown not be allowed to testify, saying she wasn't a credible witness because of her prior criminal record.

Investigators have said Bowling had strippers perform for him in his funeral homes, and Brown said he had asked her to kill his wife.

Werner said that many witnesses in the case have questionable backgrounds, but that doesn't mean they aren't credible.