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Man accused of killing his estranged wife now planning insanity plea

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of June 24, 2021)
Photo: Asbury Lee Perkins in court

Asbury Lee Perkins, charged with first-degree murder for shooting his estranged wife in the South Barrier Island home they once shared, hopes to convince a jury that a decade of false accusations by victim Cynthia Betts caused him to snap and kill her.

Perkins, 63, who has been representing himself in preparation of an expected trial later this summer, submitted a 31-page motion to Judge Dan Vaughn requesting permission to use “reverse Williams rule” evidence at trial.

Reverse Williams rule evidence permits the defense to tell the jury about previous crimes with the aim of proving the defendant’s innocence by showing another person’s guilt.

Along with the motion, Perkins provided police reports and court documents from three different Florida counties alleging that Betts repeatedly falsified statements to get Perkins arrested, then later recanted.

The cumulative effect of this, Perkins says, contributed to his temporarily insane mental state at the time he entered the home on Seagrape Drive and killed Betts in November 2014.

That November, when Betts’ father could not reach her, he asked the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office to perform a welfare check. Deputies found Perkins in the home, with open bottles of liquor and a gun, and they found Betts’ body rolled up in a rug in the utility room.

The night Betts died seems to be the culmination of more than a decade’s very troubled relationship, and Perkins wants to show that the blame is not all his.

In June 2004, Perkins alleges that Betts and her father lied when Boca Raton police were called to a domestic disturbance where Perkins was taken to the hospital for eight staples in his scalp. Perkins says he was painted as the aggressor, but that Betts and her father later signed sworn affidavits that they falsified information.

Then in February 2009, Betts accused Perkins of hitting her twice outside their place of business in Broward County. But she later recanted, saying she called police only because she wanted to get some products out of the business, and he would not let her. The charges were dismissed, Perkins said.

Next in April 2011, Perkins points to a welfare check called in to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office by Betts to find Perkins, who she suspected was staying at the Costa d’Este hotel.

The officer called Vero for assistance since the hotel is in the city, and then wrote in his report, “While waiting for a response back from Vero Beach Police Department, the complainant Cynthia Betts said she had a life insurance policy on her ex-husband Asbury Perkins, and she wanted to know how long her ex-husband had to be missing before they would pay out on the policy.”

Those are just three of the seven run-ins with police that Perkins wants admitted as evidence at trial, in support of his temporary insanity defense.

Perkins attached to his motion 24 pages of court documents and police reports detailing more than a decade of the troubled relationship, circling by hand all the instances of admitted false statements and strange behavior by Betts.

Another bizarre aspect to the case is that Perkins very much wants his brother William Perkins to testify at trial for the defense, but it appears William does not want to be found.

Local officials in Polk County where he lives have tried repeatedly to serve him with a summons to be deposed but have not succeeded. The court may issue a warrant to bring him in to be deposed, but according to the State Attorney’s Office, Perkins’ brother has not yet been taken into custody.

Assistant State Attorney Chris Taylor said the State Attorney’s Office is assisting Perkins with gathering people he wants to depose, since the defendant is preparing his defense from a cell at the Indian River County Jail.

During the years since he was arrested, Perkins has dismissed several attorneys who were trying to defend him, or to help him defend himself.

With regard to the reverse Williams rule evidence, Taylor said Judge Vaughn will rule on the admissibility of those documents at trial, which may be set for later this summer or this fall.