Monday, April 8, 2002 | 9:09 a.m.
The scheduled trial this week of Sandy Cain for the slaying last year of her husband promised to be dramatic.
Did the 47-year-old woman with no criminal history shoot her domineering husband in self-defense as a 911 operator listened, as her attorneys say? Or was she an aggressive woman who cold-bloodedly shot her sleeping husband while trying to mislead the operator into believing she was defending herself, as prosecutors maintained?
Jurors will not have to face that choice. Cain entered the equivalent of a no-contest plea to second-degree murder Friday afternoon.
Prosecutors, who had originally sought a first-degree murder conviction, also agreed to dismiss a weapons enhancement charge, which would have doubled the 10- to 25-year sentence Cain will receive on May 16, Deputy Public Defender Jordan Savage said.
Had Cain been found guilty of first-degree murder with use of a deadly weapon, she could have received a no-parole life sentence.
"It was a very difficult decision to make, for the attorneys as well," Savage said. "We are still struggling with whether it was the right decision, but we certainly couldn't predict what a jury would have done."
The Cain case attracted national attention in recent weeks. "Dateline NBC" had planned a documentary and Court TV had hoped to tape the trial for future broadcast. Local news cable station Las Vegas ONE, Cox cable channels 1 and 39, was to have aired it live.
The media's interest in the case was sparked by the picture that emerged of the Cains' marriage.
According to court documents, Cain met Frank Cain, 47, in an Internet chat room in 1997 while living with her first husband -- a man who allegedly hit her in the head with a baseball bat in 1988, causing her to live with seizures.
By early 1999 Cain was living in Las Vegas with Frank and working as a dental hygienist. In February 1999, Cain said, she signed a "slave-master contract" with Frank that identified her as the slave.
According to a psychologist's report, Cain said that under the terms of the contract, she was not allowed to raise her voice to her husband, had to walk five paces behind him and submit to kinky behavior in the bedroom.
Although Cain told the defense psychologist that her marriage was a happy one for a while, by the end of the first year her husband began to distance himself from her and wracking up bills on her credit card.
Sandy Cain said her husband also told her stories she now believes are lies. He told her he owned two slaves in Thailand and Cambodia, worked for the CIA in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and had killed 77 people -- accounting for the 77 slash marks on one of his arms.
"Sandy accepted this kind of slave-master relationship until she realized that it wasn't a relationship of love and protection, but one of manipulation and fear," Savage said.
According to court records, Cain became depressed and suicidal over her marriage and the death of her father in June 2000, and was treated with Valium and other drugs to regulate her moods.
"Frank Cain was a very, very, very bad man, and Sandy was in a period of low self-esteem when she met him on the Internet. She was willing to accept anything," Savage said.
Prosecution witnesses tell a different story. A former patient of Cain was expected to testify that Cain once showed off a handgun during a routine teeth-cleaning appointment.
In an interview with a district attorney's investigator, the patient described Cain as a "brassy" and aggressive woman who scared her so much during the gun incident she didn't go back to the dentist for two years, court documents show.
After Cain showed her the gun, the woman recalled the conversation as going like this: "She asked 'Will you floss from now on?' Yes I will. I mean, she had a gun in her pocket. She scared me to death."
A former co-worker told investigators Cain once pulled her into a bathroom and put the gun to her head. At the time, the woman thought it was a joke. Now the woman says she thinks Cain was trying to show her she was in control.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Frank Coumou said the physical evidence also belies Cain's contention that she shot her husband in self-defense.
According to court documents, Cain told police that on the morning of her husband's death, she woke him to ask him to drive her to work. He had been sleeping on the couch.
The two got into an argument after he told her to first move some boxes, and he threatened her life, Cain said.
"He basically told her, you know, 'You move them or you're going to get the .380,' " Metro Detective Sheila Huggins quoted Cain as saying.
Cain said because her husband had never physically abused her before, she became frightened and called 911 from the bedroom. She then set the phone down and went back into the living room to see if she had overreacted.
Her husband was asleep, but when she woke him up, he again threatened her and acted as though he were reaching for one of the guns he kept underneath a couch cushion, she said.
Cain said she grabbed her 9mm Smith and Wesson out of her purse and fired at least two shots.
Police say the 911 dispatcher heard nothing from the time Cain set down the phone until the moment the first gun shot rang out.
Had Frank Cain really been threatening his wife, sounds of an argument would have been heard on the 911 tape, Coumou said.
The forensic pathologist who performed Frank Cain's autopsy testified at Cain's preliminary hearing that the first two shots to enter Frank Cain's chest were fired at such a close range there were gun powder burns on his chest.
The second two shots were shot from farther away and went through Frank Cain's hands as he held them out to defend himself, the pathologist said.