WARREN COUNTY, MO - A Warren County jury found a Foristell woman not guilty in the murder of her husband in 2015. The defense argued Ashley Hunter fired the fatal shots at her husband, Nicholas Hunter, in self-defense.
As the verdict was read, Ashley said she looked to her mother to be sure she heard correctly.
"She says, 'You're coming home," said Ashley. "Finally, it hit me, and I just started bawling."
On Jan. 15, 2015, Ashley said her husband, Nicholas, attacked her, and she shot him several times in self-defense.
"I didn't even know how many bullets was in there, I didn't know how many times I shot him, I just knew that he had hurt me many times before, I knew what he was capable of, and I know what he was going to do that night," she said.
After a police investigation, Ashley was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was held on a $1 million cash-only bond.
Ashley and Nicholas met and briefly dated when she was 18 and he was 21-years-old. Nine years later, the two reconnected and married one week later.
The couple was married eight months before the fatal confrontation. According to Ashley's testimony, this was not the first time Nicholas put his hands on her.
Ashley told the jury Nicholas was prone to jealous outbursts. She said he was often unfaithful, and he abused her physically, mentally and sexually.
Still, Ashley maintains Nicholas is the only man she has ever really loved, adding he could be incredibly kind and charming at times.
In the days leading up to the shooting, Ashley said Nicholas had been laid off work and was stressed about money. Nicholas had two children from a previous marriage whom he supported financially, Ashley said.
The night of the shooting Ashley said Nicholas seemed angry and agitated. Ashley sent her two daughters, then five and seven-years-old, to their room.
When his anger intensified, Ashley told Nicholas she was leaving.
"He had wrapped his hand around my throat and raised his fist at me," Ashley said.
She said Nicholas then pointed a gun at her so she struck him with her knee.
According to Ashley, Nicholas fell back and dropped the gun. She said she grabbed the gun and Nicholas came after her again so she fired several shots at him.
When police arrived on the scene, Nicholas was dead.
Ashley said she relied on family and her faith to get her through the last few years in jail. She has not seen her daughters in four years but communicated with them via phone calls and letters.
Now that she is free, Ashley said she is working with an attorney to reclaim custody of her daughters, now nine and 11-years-old, who are living with their father.
Ashley plans to finish her undergraduate degree, and then she is considering going to law school. She hopes to help other women in abusive relationships.
On behalf of Nicholas Hunter's family, his cousin, Shannon Brady, tells Fox 2:
"Our family is shocked and devastated, but we know that the verdict was only based on a technicality. Ashley admitted to me that he never laid a finger on her and never would. She told me this in December 2014. There was no evidence to support any of her allegations of abuse in the past or that night.
Those that know and love Nick, know what kind of a man, father, and friend he was. He was an incredible man with an incredibly tender heart who would always stand up for women, stranger or not.
Our hearts are forever broken and we will all do our best to keep Nick alive for his children."
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233