Atlanta Man Dennis Allaben on trial in wife's death
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The murder trial against Dennis Allaben began this week with none of the most bizarre aspects of the case in dispute.
On Jan. 3, 2010, Allaben strangled his wife, Maureen, the effervescent set decorator of "The Mo'Nique Show" on BET, in their bedroom and then took one of the strangest interstate road trips ever.
After killing his wife, Allaben wrapped her body in quilted padding, weighted it down in the back of his Ford pickup and drove the couple's 7- and 8-year-old son and daughter more than 500 miles to Chesterfield, Va.
He dropped his kids off at his brother's house so they would not be taken into state custody, and then drove back to Georgia, still with his wife's corpse in tow. He finally stopped at a friend’s house in Jonesboro and then surrendered to a police officer who lived three houses away.
The question posed Tuesday to a DeKalb County jury was whether Maureen Allaben's killing was a premeditated, malice murder.
If the jury believes so, DeKalb prosecutors have said they will ask Superior Court Judge Linda W. Hunter to sentence Allaben to life in prison without parole.
Allaben's attorney, Stephen Frey, doesn't deny that Allaben killed his wife. However, he wants to show jurors that it was the act of someone who came unhinged.
Allaben, who ran a company that tested underground tanks, sat at the defense table Tuesday appearing gaunt, having lost a considerable amount of weight since his arrest 18 months ago. Family members sat behind him in the courtroom.
In opening statements, DeKalb prosecutor Patricia Jackson told the jury of 10 men and two women the case was about "power, control and jealousy."
At the time, she said, 47-year-0ld Dennis Allaben was losing control of his wife and wanted none of it.
Maureen Allaben, 43, was a well-known food stylist in the metro area. She prepared food for display in advertising photos and commercials, calling herself "the Mistress of Deception."
She was also a rising star in the television industry, having just received a big promotion on "The Mo'Nique Show" that would give her the financial independence to be free of her husband's control, Jackson said.
"But he wanted control of a woman to do what he wanted, when he wanted her to do it, with no back talk," the prosecutor said. "He came up with a plan to stop her dead in her tracks."
After Dennis Allaben strangled his wife, Jackson said, he roused his children and told them, "You're going to come with me on a road trip. I killed your mother."
Frey said at the time of the killing, his client was a tortured soul, on the brink of losing it. Some of Allaben's thoughts at the time, Frey told jurors, "will seem unreal, shocking, unbelievable."
While Frey did not disclose what those thoughts were to the jury, court documents show that Allaben told police he suspected his wife was trying to poison or drug him and was stalking him through GPS and computer monitoring, claims that have not been substantiated.
Frey also told jurors that the defense will not attack Maureen Allaben's character or indicate in any way "she had it coming."
Without specifying what verdict he was seeking, Frey indicated he may ask the jury to convict his client of manslaughter, a killing that is the result of a sudden and irresistible passion and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Allaben, Frey said, was a man "who wanted some answers and found himself in a situation where consequences -- unintended consequences, unforeseen consequences -- did come to bear."
"What happened to Maureen was tragic and wrong," Frey said, "but it's not murder."