Maryland’s Love Affair with the “Heat of Passion” Defense

Anne Marble
7 min readNov 10, 2021

The Death of Kimberly Nalls

In 1995, Maryland residents debated the law. Did an angry husband have the right to kill his wife if he thought she was committing adultery? Of course not. Yet the law was slow to catch up.

According to Maryland law at the time, adultery was a “legally recognized provocation.” This meant that a man could get charged with manslaughter instead of murder if he caught his wife in bed with another man. This law dated back to the times when you could put “Fatti maschii, parole femine” (often translated as “Manly deeds, womanly words”) on your state seal without getting laughed at.

Note: I covered this law in An Infamous Sentence: The Death of Sandra Peacock.

In that case, the husband was sentenced to just 18 months after shooting and killing his wife.

But what if the husband simply thought his wife was having an affair? Many spouses think they are being cheated on with no proof whatsoever. Othello, anyone? And we all know how well that ended. Tragically. With Othello blindly believing the worst of his innocent wife and unjustly killing her. With other people paying the price for his blind jealousy.

A black-and-white image shows famous African-American actor Paul Robeson as Othello. He is in costume, wearing robes with embroidery. He is wearing a troubled expression.
Paul Robeson as Othello. (Source: Photograph Carl Van Vechten. Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection; CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Yet this was Maryland in the 1990s, not Venice in the 1570s. Surely doubt and suspicions alone shouldn’t allow the husband to get him a lesser sentence. Right? Right?

The Death of Kimberly Nalls

It was the middle of the afternoon on August 20, 1994. At her house in Rosedale, Maryland (a suburb in Baltimore County), Kimberly Dawn Bender Nalls found herself at a crossroads in her marriage. She was just 25 years old, and she had decided to leave her 26-year-old husband, Brian Nalls.

A color photograph shows a view down Route 40 in Rosedale, Maryland. There are businesses visible on both sides of the multi-lane road, as well as telephone poles. The black-and-white Route 40 sign is displayed on the side of the road, indicating that the road is a Snow Emergency Route.
A Stretch of Pulaski Highway (Route 40) in Rosedale, Maryland. (Source: Wikipedia; photo by Famartinm, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.)

It looked like a typical blue-collar marriage. He worked in plumbing and construction, and she was a…

Anne Marble

I’m a writer and a copy editor with experience in editing science and engineering articles. Click Lists to find my most popular articles. And hidden gems.