'Terrified' of partner, Alberta woman tells her murder trial

Debbie Doonanco is charged with the second-degree murder of her former husband, Kevin Feland. On Thursday in St. Paul she took the stand in her own defence to describe life with the man she described as an abusive drug addict.

'He told me once that if I complained any more, he's going to beat me and I will lose'

Debbie Doonanco leaves St. Paul courthouse last month with her father, Johnnie Doonanco. (Janice Johnston/CBC News )

The night before Debbie Doonanco's partner died, he pushed her up against the wall of her bedroom and shoved his hands down her throat, Doonanco testified Thursday at her second-degree murder trial.

Kevin Feland's hands were "disgusting" from smoking crack cocaine all night, Doonanco told a St. Paul courtroom.  

"His hands were dirty, grubby, black.I couldn't breathe," the retired schoolteacher said.

"I couldn't talk. I think he finally let go because I think he needed to go and get another hoot."

Doonanco, 54, is expected to admit that hours later, on the morning of Sunday, May 25, 2014, she shot her former husband twice in the chest, then set the living room of their home on fire. They lived in Glendon, 40 kilometres northeast of St. Paul.

Doonanco is on trial for second-degree murder, arson and committing an indignity to human remains. She has pleaded not guilty, but her lawyer has told the jury she killed the 44-year-old Feland in self-defence to save her own life.  

'He was doing drugs. All the time. Every day'

Doonanco took the stand Thursday to testify in her own defence.

She told the court her life had become a waking nightmare. Feland had been out of work for almost two months.  

"Because he was doing drugs. All the time. Every day," she testified.  

The Glendon house belonging to Debbie Doonanco, where Kevin Feland's body was found May 25, 2014. (Court exhibit)

The couple was unable to pay bills because all their money went to Feland's crack cocaine habit. Doonanco estimated he had spent $25,000 on the drug. When she confronted him about it, he got angry.  

She stopped counting the days he got high and how much money he spent on drugs.

"He told me once that if I complained any more, he's going to beat me and I will lose," she said. "He had contacts with the Hells Angels. He showed me the contact in his phone and he said if I left he'd come after me and kill me and my mom and dad."  

Doonanco bent over and sobbed on the stand, then straightened up, looked at the jury and declared, "That's what he did."

She added: "I was terrified of him."

Doonanco said by the night of May 24, 2014 she was no longer sleeping or eating. She said she shut herself in her bedroom and listened as Feland smoked crack and prowled through the house all night.

"He continued to walk around the house with a weapon," she testified. "Sometimes it was scissors or a big butcher knife or choice of gun. I closed my doors gently and I stayed there and he continued to walk around and around."

'I lost everything I worked for'

Before dawn, Doonanco's terror ratcheted up another notch.  

"I heard the loudest noise of my life," she told the court. "He shot somewhere in the house. I knew it was close by me because it was very, very loud. It just paralyzed me. I could not move. I was never so scared in my entire life."

"What impact did this have on you?" asked Doonanco's lawyer, Brian Beresh.  

"I lost everything I worked for," Doonanco sobbed on the witness stand.

"I lost my freedom. I lost my sanity. My security. My home that I worked every day for every piece of furniture in here. And he turned it into a crack home. I had nothing. Nothing. It disgusted me. And I was terrified to fight back for my own home."  

History of abuse

The jury has been told Feland had a history of abuse. Jurors have been shown defence photo exhibits of Doonanco's bruise-covered body. She testified the bruises were caused by Feland repeatedly kicking her.

Debbie Doonanco, shortly after her 2014 arrest shows bruises on her legs she claims came from being repeatedly kicked. (RCMP/Court exhibit )

"I would be sitting on the couch with Kevin," she testified, "and if he didn't want me anywhere near him or sitting with him, he would kick me."

She estimated she was kicked at least three times the last week Feland was alive. She also said injuries to her feet were caused when Feland stomped on them.  

Doonanco said she felt trapped.

"So I just took it," she said. "I was his. And he told me that. I am his. I am his property and always will be."  

She also said: "He was taking everything I loved. Because he had nothing left."

In opening arguments Oct. 18, Crown prosecutor Dallas Sopko said there is "no reliable evidence of significant violence" between the couple in the months leading up to his death.  

Doonanco's testimony will continue Friday in front of the jury and Justice Michelle Crighton. Then she will be cross-examined.  

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston