Court tosses DeKalb conviction of man who drove dead wife to Virginia

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday overturned the murder conviction of a DeKalb County man who killed his wife and then drove to Virginia and back with her body in the bed of his pickup truck.

Dennis Allaben had admitted to killing his wife, Maureen, on Jan. 3, 2010, but said it was accidental. He said he merely wanted to confront her because he believed she was trying to poison him and was stalking his movements through GPS and computer monitoring — claims that were never substantiated.

In its ruling on Monday, the state Supreme Court noted the DeKalb jury that convicted Allaben found him guilty of both murder and reckless conduct.

Those verdicts are “mutually exclusive,” because reckless conduct requires the jury to find that a defendant did not intend to kill or injure the victim, Justice Carol Hunstein wrote for a unanimous court. When such verdicts are rendered, the convictions must be voided, the opinion said. The case now returns to DeKalb for a new trial.

Maureen Allaben, 43, was a well-known food stylist in the metro area. She prepared food for display in advertising photos, calling herself “the Mistress of Deception.”

She also was a rising star in television. She recently had been promoted to be set decorator of “The Mo’Nique Show” on BET. Prosecutors said the couple’s marriage was troubled, as Dennis Allaben sought to control his wife as she achieved more financial independence.

Allaben told his sister-in-law that he put a cloth soaked with ether over his wife’s mouth, hoping it was put her to sleep so he could bind her and make her tell him what she was doing to him, according to trial testimony. But the cloth went too far down her throat and she choked to death, he said.

At trial, however, DeKalb’s chief medical examiner testified Maureen Allaben was killed by someone who stood behind her and put her in a choke hold.

After the killing, Dennis Allaben wrapped his wife’s body in quilted padding, weighted it down in the back of his Ford pickup and then drove the couple’s 7- and 8-year-old son and daughter more than 500 miles to Chesterfield, Va. Along the way, he told his children he had killed their mother, according to testimony.

He dropped his kids at his brother’s house so they would not be taken into state custody, then drove back to Georgia, still with his wife’s corpse in the bed of the pickup. He stopped at a friend’s house in Jonesboro and surrendered to a police officer who lived three houses away.

Allaben remains in custody awaiting his new trial. In its decision, the state Supreme Court said it found the evidence presented during his 2011 trial “sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Allaben was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted.”

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