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Performer's wife guilty of manslaughter

TAMPA, Fla., July 28 -- A Tampa woman remained jailed Thursday after a jury convicted her of a reduced charge of manslaughter in the contract slaying of her husband, the former carnival performer billed as Lobster Boy. Mary Stiles, 56, had been charged with first-degree murder. Stiles, who admitted paying a neighbor $1,500 to kill her husband Grady, said she did so because she was the victim of repeated spouse abuse. When the verdict was read Wednesday night, Stiles' daughter Cathy Berry threw herself into her mother's lap. Berry angrily said the state and the media didn't care about her family. Stiles is to be sentenced next month. She faces from 12 to 22 years in prison. It was the first Florida case in which self-defense or the battered wife syndrome has been claimed in a murder for hire situation. The defense has been used rarely nationwide and has never been successful, court sources said. Grady Stiles was a sideshow performer with deformed hands that looked like lobster claws and stump legs who spent most of his later years in a wheel chair. Mary Stiles maintained that she was a battered wife who lived in fear of being harmed. She said her husband was a physically powerful drunk who struck her frequently, head butted her and threatened her life. Prosecution witness Dr. Peter Burstyn, supported her claim. Two days before Grady Stiles was shot as he watched television, Mary Stiles said she awakened to find him holding a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her and her family.

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Defense attorney Arnold Levine showed a silent videotape last week in which the victim wrestled with his son as proof Stiles could get out of his wheelchair and hurt someone. The jury saw the same tape Monday with sound and what they heard was laughter. The prosecution contended that Mary Stiles planned the murder two weeks in advance and hired a hit man -- a neighborhood teenager -- because she stood to gain financially from her husband's death. 'Battered wife syndrome is not a license to kill. You are being asked to extend it to a situation where it does not apply,' said assistant state attorney Sandra Spoto.

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