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Top lawyer slain; ex-wife charged

Suspect survives leap off Skyway

[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Investigators say prominent lawyer Grover Cleveland Freeman Jr., 54, was shot to death Monday night by his ex-wife, Katherine, in his home in Tampa's Carrollwood. Grover Cleveland Freeman lived there with his current wife, Constance.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000


Grover Freeman
Katherine Freeman
TAMPA -- Katherine Freeman delivered home-baked poundcakes, bathed a friend's young daughter and chatted with neighbors Monday afternoon in her tony Carrollwood subdivision.

Hours later, investigators say, she shot to death her ex-husband, successful lawyer Grover Cleveland Freeman Jr., 54, before beating and attempting to strangle his wife in the couple's two-story lakefront home in Carrollwood.

Katherine Freeman then drove her 1999 Cadillac to the Sunshine Skyway bridge early Tuesday morning and leaped from the center span.

Remarkably, she survived. Officials credited brisk winds with slowing the 140-pound woman's descent. She is thought to be the fifth person to survive the 200-foot fall since the bridge opened in 1987.

Katherine Freeman was still conscious after drifting more than 40 minutes in the main shipping channel before being plucked from the water by officials with St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, said spokesman David Nolsheim. An initial assessment of her condition showed possible broken legs and a broken pelvis, Nolsheim said.

She was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where she underwent surgery and was in critical condition with internal injuries.

Tuesday afternoon, Hillsborough sheriff's deputies charged the 41-year-old homemaker and former stockbroker with first-degree murder, armed burglary and aggravated battery.

The chain of events stunned her upscale community and left the couple's 13-year-old daughter in shock, friends said.

"We can't fathom any of this happening," said Michele Karpenko, a friend of Katherine Freeman's who answered the door Tuesday morning at Freeman's home at 2815 Linthicum Place, just blocks from her ex-husband's house at 3113 Mossvale Lane.

Like many neighbors, Karpenko described her friend as a vivacious, upbeat person who doted on her daughter and maintained a friendly relationship with her ex-husband despite their 1996 divorce after 10 years of marriage.

"They were best friends who got married," she said. After the divorce, she said, Katherine Freeman would sometimes comment she missed her ex-spouse.

"She would say, "I realize how much I liked him as a person,"' Karpenko recalled.

Yet for some reason, investigators said, she armed herself with a handgun and entered her ex-husband's home shortly after 11:30 p.m. Monday. She then confronted him, said sheriff's spokesman Rod Reder, shooting him several times.

Constance Freeman was choked and pistol-whipped. She escaped.
Upon hearing shots, Freeman's wife, Constance Freeman, 50, approached the pair and was attacked by Katherine Freeman, who choked her, pistol-whipped her and broke one of her fingers, Reder said.

"Mrs. Freeman then ran to a friend's house, and the suspect fled," Reder said.

Grover Freeman called 911 but died at the scene.

It is not clear how Katherine Freeman spent the time after the shooting and before leaping off the Sunshine Skyway bridge Tuesday morning about 6.

However, she did not return to her home where her daughter was in the care of her mother, said Karpenko, who was watching after the teen Tuesday.

A neighbor and close friend of the couple, Laurie Winkles, said Katherine Freeman may have reacted to tensions between her daughter and Constance Freeman, who had been with the teen Monday when the girl placed a call to her mother.

"She was very protective" of her daughter, said Winkles, who described the woman as "passionate, and utterly devoted" to her child. "Something must have been said to really tick her off."

The incident came as a surprise to others who said that Grover and Katherine Freeman were an ideal example of an amicable split.

Divorce records show that after the couple's breakup, Grover Freeman kept the marital home, valued at $650,000, as well as several condominiums, sports cars and various bank and stock accounts.

Katherine Freeman received $110,000 in cash, $96,000 in alimony and $1,450 in monthly child support, plus half the furniture and photographs.

Six months later, court records show, Grover Freeman remarried on Oct. 12, 1996, to Constance Elaine King. If that situation was difficult for Katherine Freeman, friends say, she never showed it.

It was one of many challenges she had faced in life.

In March 1983, sheriff's deputies said, someone shot to death her boyfriend, 30-year-old Ronald Heinlein, in his jewelry store on N Dale Mabry Highway.

"Kathy was dating Ronald, and he was a homicide victim," said Reder, the sheriff's spokesman, adding that the case remains open.

A year later, in February 1984, a robber took Katherine Freeman hostage after beating and robbing her in a jewelry store she owned on E Busch Boulevard in Tampa.

The suspect was shot by Tampa police 11 times in the store's parking lot. He recovered and eventually was sentenced to prison.

In 1986, friends said, Freeman had recently given birth and was living in the Mossvale Lane home when she was attacked by an intruder while her husband was out of town.

Yet despite her hardships, friends said, Katherine Freeman was not angry, bitter or resentful.

"Her attitude was, "Life goes on,"' said her friend Karpenko.

Recently, she had been typically upbeat, neighbors said, and making plans to take her daughter to Hawaii in two weeks.

When she did talk of her ex-husband, it was with respect, said Janine Rosen, who lives across the street from Katherine Freeman's one-story stone home.

"She spoke of him with admiration, talked of his successes," Rosen said.

For her part, Winkles speculated that the friend who e-mailed her jokes and organized outings for their kids was perhaps hiding an inner pain, accumulated from her life experiences.

"I wonder if it all just added up."

-- Times researchers John Martin and Cathy Wos and Times staff writers Jeff Testerman and Amy Wimmer contributed to this report. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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