For the first time since the trial began more than a month ago, jurors heard directly from Leslie Jenea Chance, the woman accused of murdering her husband, injecting a burst of emotion into the courtroom Tuesday that has been relatively void of it so far in three weeks of witness testimony and presentation of evidence, much of which consists of grainy, silent surveillance footage.
In her daylong testimony, Chance, a former elementary school principal, smiled at photos of her family on vacation, denied killing her husband and cried out when a prosecutor presented her with the gun allegedly used to kill her husband.
Chance is charged with the Aug. 25, 2013, shooting death of her husband, Todd Chance, which prosecutors allege was motivated by jealousy from a rekindled text romance between Todd Chance and his high school sweetheart.
Prosecutors say that while the couple took a drive in Todd Chance's beloved Ford Mustang that Sunday morning, Leslie Chance shot and killed him, leaving his body near an orchard by Enos Lane and Noriega Road and then abandoning the sports car in a southwest Bakersfield neighborhood. From there, it is alleged, Leslie Chance took a suspiciously circuitous route home, prosecutors say, going between various stores on foot and by taxi, and changing her clothes to disguise herself as she returned home.
Leslie Chance denied knowing about Todd Chance's text romance with his high school sweetheart and maintains that she was at home the morning her husband was killed, doing laundry, as she always did on weekends. She said she never planned or plotted to kill her husband.
As her attorney showed pictures of Leslie and Todd with their two teenage daughters on vacation in summer 2013, in Las Vegas, Morro Bay and San Francisco, he asked her to describe the photos. One showed a henna tattoo her daughter got, another showed the two girls at night with the Las Vegas city lights in the background. A shot of a pizza was what they ordered for the girls one night when she and Todd Chance went for a dinner alone as a couple. She spoke clearly, smiling at goofy selfies her daughters took and explaining that the family liked jerky, hence the photo of Alien Fresh Jerky in Bakersfield where they stopped on the way home.
Defense attorney Tony Lidgett asked her at one point: "Did you love your husband?"
"Very much," Leslie Chance replied.
"Do you still love your husband?" he asked.
"I do," she said.
Under cross-examination, prosecutor Andrea Kohler asked Leslie Chance about her husband's gun collection and a pistol he owned that previously belonged to Leslie Chance's father. The 38-caliber weapon has been entered into evidence as the gun used to kill Todd Chance. Kohler then retrieved the gun from a closet in the courtroom and asked for permission from the judge to approach Leslie Chance.
"You’re going to show me the gun that killed my husband?" Leslie Chance cried out as Kohler walked over to the witness stand.
When Kohler then asked if she recognized the weapon, Leslie Chance said through tears, "Yes, that's our gun."
Kohler then showed a photo of Leslie Chance weeks before Todd Chance's murder holding the gun and shooting it, even though she never had an interest in shooting guns with her family and testified to never being "fond of guns."
Kohler also grilled Leslie Chance about her previous marriage, which ended in divorce after her husband left her for another woman while she was pregnant with their child.
Did she agree that if she divorced Todd Chance she'd be once again in a bad situation, Kohler asked, having to pay him support and part of her retirement savings since she made more money than he did as a truck driver.
"But don’t you agree you trusted this man to love you and not cheat on you like the last one?" Kohler asked.
Leslie Chance denied ever considering a divorce situation with Todd Chance but also said "I rebuilt before, I would rebuild again."
When questioned by her own attorney earlier in the day about the morning of her husband's murder, Chance said she woke up first and then Todd Chance came downstairs a bit later and prepared to go to a gun show he had planned to attend with his father. Leslie Chance said she remembered her husband didn't have any coffee that morning, which was unusual for him. But he told her he was in a hurry because his dad was waiting for him, she said.
That was the last time she saw him, she said.
Her two younger daughters painted wooden letters spelling out "Samantha," one of the girl's names, and her oldest daughter from a prior marriage came by to pick up a bed later in the day.
Lidgett displayed a family calendar for the jury that showed a Vons grocery delivery expected between 10 a.m. and noon that day.
Later in the day, Leslie Chance said, police came to her home to tell her that her husband had been murdered.
Leslie Chance is expected to continue testifying Wednesday.