Anne Throneberry was like no other widow I had ever met. Her long blonde hair was braided, and she was dressed like a cowgirl in blue denim and brown boots when she took the witness stand.
At 48, Throneberry was charged with capital murder, kidnapping, and more in the 2004 beating death of her husband, Ted Throneberry, on their 16th wedding anniversary. But when she took the witness stand during her January 2007 trial, she seemed more interested in giving jurors a firsthand account of her farm-to-table lifestyle in the Arkansas Ozarks--specifically Alread, a tiny and remote community near Clinton.
She dispensed advice on orchard pruning ("right before the sap comes on"); talked about milking goats (every 12 hours) and making artisan goat cheese; spoke of her allergies, wrist pain, and hives; and likened her "red-hot" severe sinus pain to the rod extending though the Frankenstein monster's head.
She recounted two weeks of foraging for berries and wild onions while on the run with the two men already convicted of murdering her husband with a sledgehammer.
She told jurors that she read the Bible to the men as they hid in the mountains. Jurors listened attentively as she quoted enough verses to leave Billy Graham in awe.
By all accounts, she was a believer. She'd met her late husband, Ted, through an ad in a Christian singles newspaper. He played the guitar; she played the flute. A Mennonite family who had befriended her filled a courtroom bench each day of her trial.
She admitted that she had dreamed of a blue barrel with her husband in it. But no, she testified, she had not actually seen his body in the barrel where his killers burned his bludgeoned body until only tiny bone fragments remained.
She choked up and wept several times--when she remembered her strict father, when she said she missed her husband, when she recalled a beloved pony on her farm.
"Of course, the worst thing was Ted," she said. "But I loved my animals. ... They may be goats to you, but they fed me."
Throneberry's statements at times defied reason. Yet jurors seemed to like her. In January 2007, they convicted her, but of manslaughter instead of capital murder. A juror later told me they had not wanted her to go to prison. I had interviewed her earlier and also believed she was in on the murder plot, though she was not present for the killing.
In the end, I gave her a small book, The Gift of Peace by Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who had died before its publication. In Bernardin's final months on this earth, he wrote about the trials of life and the peace he had found in God.
Three months after her trial, an old man stood at the bottom of a wet gravesite in a country cemetery and held a modest homemade urn, white with some brass. Inside were the remains that a prosecutor had placed into a tiny jewelry box and had given Ted's dad, Vernie Throneberry, the day Anne's trial ended.
At the cemetery, Vernie, a retired Baptist preacher, placed the urn inside a larger white concrete chest. He applied a white sealant to the top of the chest to keep water out and pounded the lid onto it with his hands.
"I know this is way out of the ordinary," he told the mourners.
And then, as a few relatives and others quietly watched, the old man reached for the duct tape and wrapped it around the bucket. Moments later, he used a rope to lower the bucket into the deep earthen hole.
"Just a few little atoms of what was my son," Vernie said. "We're all made out of atoms and molecules."
Thirteen years after her trial, Anne Throneberry is 61 and imprisoned in Wrightsville. A photo on the state Corrections Department's website reflects the toll prison has taken on Throneberry. Her hair is no longer blonde and neatly pulled back but is long, unkempt and gray.
The website describes Throneberry as a"minimal" threat and says she first became eligible for parole in 2015.
Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.
Editorial on 03/01/2020