By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell testified on Thursday he was no longer living with his wife, having moved out of his home and into a church about a week before the start of their trial on bribery and corruption charges.
McDonnell, in his second day of testimony, described a marriage marked by dwindling communication and angry outbursts from his wife, culminating in a decision late last month to move out.
With their marriage under increasing strain, McDonnell said he dreaded the idea of having to discuss the events of the trial every day with his wife.
"I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to go home,” the former Republican governor, once considered a potential presidential candidate, testified under questioning by his lawyers.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, are charged with accepting $120,000 in loans and more than $50,000 in gifts and other favors from Jonnie Williams Sr., then chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, in exchange for promoting Anatabloc, a dietary supplement and the company’s signature product.
During the trial, now in its fourth week, prosecutors have said the couple were desperate for money and in deep trouble financially, turning to Williams to help them out.
Robert McDonnell’s lawyers have mounted a defense that rests on trying to convince a U.S. District Court jury that he and his wife could not have conspired to take gifts and loans from the wealthy businessman because the couple were not even talking to each other.
Maureen McDonnell remained expressionless and stared straight ahead as her husband described their deteriorating relationship and her fits of anger.
The former governor's defense team, headed by attorney Henry Asbill, introduced an email that McDonnell sent his wife in early September 2011, that seemed part apology and part an effort to reconcile their differences.
"I am a sinner,” McDonnell wrote, adding: "I’m trying to do better.”
'END OF MY ROPE'
In the email, McDonnell tells his wife he was at a complete loss about how to handle her “fiery anger” and other problems that were becoming more frequent.
"I was about at the end of my rope,” McDonnell testified in explaining why he sent the email. “I just couldn’t take her anger, this yelling and sweating the small stuff.”
McDonnell said he approved of his wife’s friendship with Williams, because she seemed in a better mood after meeting Williams.
“I thought it was helpful,” he said of the relationship.
Maureen McDonnell's lawyers said previously she had a "crush" on Williams.
The former governor denied knowing about $19,000 in dresses and accessories that Williams purchased for Maureen McDonnell during a New York shopping spree.
McDonnell added he believed Williams’ gift of $15,000 to pay for his daughter’s wedding reception was appropriate, because the gift was to her and not to him or his wife.
If convicted on all charges, the couple could each be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Peter Cooney)