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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Catherine Pileggi took the stand on Wednesday to explain to jurors that her abusive relationship led her to murder her millionaire boyfriend of 20-years.

Pileggi, 58, explained that her boyfriend Ronald Vinci, 70, sexually and physically abused her. She is claiming a “battered spouse” form of self-defense in her murder trial.

On the day of his death – June 28th, 2011 – Pileggi said Vinci threatened to kill her and even pointed a loaded gun at her head. She told jurors she was in such fear she soiled herself, and that was when Vinci put the gun down.

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According to Pileggi, Vinci chased her up the stairs of his $3 million mansion in Fort Lauderdale, but fell and cracked his head. Pileggi reportedly helped him up to his bedroom, before cleaning the blood on stairs.

Pileggi said after bathing and changing her clothes, she noticed the gun Vinci had pointed at her was loaded.

That is when she said a mix of emotions overcame her – realizing he could have killed her at any moment – and she shot Vinci.

“After I saw those bullets,” she said, “It’s like it wasn’t me.  It  was an out of body experience.”

“Do you believe that he would have gotten up and killed you that night?” asked prosecutor Brian Cavangh.

“Yes,” she said.

But the gunshot wasn’t the only wound Pileggi inflicted on Vinci.

A few hours later she said she shot him, beat him with a hammer, slashed his throat and stabbed him throug the heart.

She insisted all of the damage done was in self-defense.

Prosecutors aren’t convinced. They said Vinci didn’t pose an imminent threat, which would make the murder legally unjustifiable.

“You chose to stay there,” the prosecutor said in court, “Shoot him in the head with a gun, at some point get a hammer from the laundry room, hit him in the head with a hammer, at some point get a knife from the kitchen to slice his throat, even though you don’t remember that.  You don’t deny that happened. You were on the only person in the house that night?”

“I don’t deny any of it,” Pileggi said.

Pileggi’s attorney is trying to prove this was not a case of murder as charged.

An domestic violence expert said this was the reaction of a battered woman who felt she had to kill or be killed.

“At the time that she killed Mr. Vinci,” the expert testified, “she reasonably feared that if she didn’t, that soon that night, or the next day,whenever he woke up, he would kill her.”

Closing arguments may begin Thursday.

If convicted, she could face life in prison with no parole.


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Ted Scouten