EDNA – According to her own version of events, Amber Sorensen killed her abusive boyfriend after he had beaten her, strangled her and threatened her life by holding a gun to her head.
“Her life was in danger,” said Sorensen’s attorney, Stephen Cihal, during his closing arguments to jurors Monday afternoon.
But according to prosecutors’ understanding of the evidence, Sorensen was not only a merciless killer but also an adept manipulator who had deceived her community and the law enforcement officers tasked with investigating her.
“You have a young woman, and a bunch of men, who are incapable of thinking a woman can be violent,” said former Victoria County district attorney Stephen Tyler, who is acting as an assistant district attorney in the case.
“They assumed her cooperation meant she was cooperating honestly,” said Assistant District Attorney Tom Dillard, who once served under Tyler.
Monday afternoon, jurors began considering which version of events had more credibility, beginning deliberation at 4:20 p.m.
Jurors received the case on the 11th day of trial after eight days of testimony.
About 100 people attended the trial, which was in a packed upstairs Jackson County courtroom.
Sorensen did not elect to take the stand.
With a verdict not reached by 5:30 p.m., District Judge Bobby Bell dismissed jurors, asking them to return at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
The 37-year old mother is charged with murder, aggravated assault of a family member with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily injury and manslaughter.
If convicted of murdering Parker, she would face between five and 99 years or life in prison with up to a $10,000 fine.
Until Monday afternoon, prosecutors had not laid out an explicit motive.
After the two met at high school baseball games in 2016, Parker moved in with Sorensen and her children.
Pointing to bitter arguments and disagreements over money, Tyler said Sorensen had killed Parker out of anger and resentment.
That resentment, he said, was the result of her own financial failures and Parker’s increasing role with her children.
Sorensen, who was drunk on the night of Parker’s death with a 0.164% blood-alcohol level, wanted to have the final say in their relationship.
“She is being diminished and disregarded,” Tyler said, adding motive was not necessary for prosecutors to prove.
Those relationship woes came to a deadly culmination Feb. 7, 2017, when Sorensen shot and killed Parker at their shared Edna mobile home.
“It ends in gunfire,” Tyler said of their relationship.
For prosecutors, the entire case came down to two questions.
“Did the defendant shoot Mr. Parker, and if she did, is that OK?” said Dillard to jurors.
Self-defense, Dillard said, is a valid defense for killing only when a person’s life is immediately threatened.
Forensic evidence and testing were crucial in supporting prosecutors’ claims that Sorensen was motivated by malice and not self-preservation.
Analysis of blood spatters, the angle of the fatal bullet that entered Parker’s chest, the position of his body and other evidence, they said, poked holes in Sorensen’s various, differing accounts to investigators and grand jurors.
That analysis, much of which was conducted by Texas Ranger Drew Pilkington, showed Parker was probably doing situps when he was killed, they said.
“Her stories did not match the physical evidence and are ... highly suspect,” Tyler said.
Wielding a telescopic pointer, Tyler emphatically led jurors through his conclusions, repeatedly striking a television screen that showed the results of various trigonometric ballistic calculations and other forensic testing.
The title to one page of his presentation read “Girl that cried wolf.”
Cihal, who spoke to jurors quietly but with confidence, chose his words slowly and carefully.
Sharply contradicting prosecutors, Cihal saw more continuities than discrepancies in Sorensen’s versions of events.
“In every interview, she shot the gun to stop violence,” he said.
He also said he saw plenty of evidence to cast doubt on prosecutors’ claims that Sorensen was the perpetrator rather than the victim.
Pointing to testimony from Sorensen’s loved ones, he noted that bruises had been seen on her arms at several family gatherings.
He also reminded jurors about a text message conversation in which Parker did not refute Sorensen when she accused him of abusing her.
“How am I strong enough to get the s--- beat out of me and say nothing to my parents,” reads one of the quoted texts.
“I’m not proud of myself ... I’m doing what I can to fix myself,” reads one of Parker’s replies in that conversation.
And he asked jurors to consider Sorensen’s frantic state of mind in the minutes after Parker’s death.
In the courtroom, jurors heard recordings made by an apparently panicking Sorensen to a 911 operator and investigators.
“I’m not sure Ms. Sorensen acted in self-defense, but I have a reasonable doubt,” Cihal said to jurors.
But it was those recordings, prosecutors said, that showed that she was a calculated killer and liar.
In one recording, she told investigators Parker would never have actually shot her.
Tyler said the timing of her 911 call was another indication of Sorensen’s guilt.
During their closing arguments, prosecutors repeatedly referred to a 15-20 minute delay between when Parker was killed and when law enforcement officers arrived.
“What does a hunter do? ... (She) lets (the deer) bleed out,” said Tyler. “I would submit to you she let him bleed out.”