published Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Rita Spurgeon of Whitfield County pleads guilty to shooting ex-husband as he slept

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    Rita Spurgeon, 50, is charged with the murder of her husband.

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A Whitfield County, Ga., woman charged with shooting her ex-husband as he slept and then trying to disguise the crime as a robbery pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Rita Spurgeon, 50, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault and was sentenced last week to serve 18 years in prison and 22 years on probation, Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kermit McManus said.

She remains in the Whitfield County Jail until she is transferred to state prison.

Her public defender, Mike McCarthy, said she could receive parole after serving 65 to 90 percent of her sentence.

After Spurgeon's ex-husband, Audie, was found dead with four bullets in his head last June, she told police that an intruder had broken in their home and shot him, authorities said.

But in an interview the next day, Rita Spurgeon admitted that she had shot her ex-husband, McManus said.

Her trial was delayed in June 2011 to await results from her psychological test. Both tests eventually showed she was competent to stand trial and that she was competent at the time of the crime, McManus said.

She originally was charged with felony murder.

McCarthy said she was diagnosed with severe depression and seizure disorders a few years back. The symptoms became more severe after her son committed suicide and her mother died about the same time, McCarthy said.

"I'm sure that played a large part in the state's agreement to reduce the charges," he said.

The Spurgeons divorced in 2005 but recently had moved back in together, McManus said. She had been living with a boyfriend, but he left her to be with his own wife, McManus said.

But Rita Spurgeon kept in contact with the boyfriend, McManus said. When Audie Spurgeon found out about the secret relationship, authorities believe, he told his ex-wife he was going to make them stop talking, he said.

But both prosecutors and Rita Spurgeon's attorney said her ex-husband always treated her well.

"He doted over her," McManus said.

During Rita Spurgeon's interview with police, she told authorities she woke up holding a gun in her hands, standing next to the bed where her husband slept -- a story McManus said was made up.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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