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'Did you kill your husband?'

by Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent

"Would you like fries with that?"

"Window or aisle?"

We all have questions that seem to come with our jobs. Mine often is: "Did you kill, your wife (or husband)?"

It's odd. I know it and the question echoes in my head whenever I ask it, usually in the green-walled tank of a state prison or county jail, the one-time accused, by then the convicted, denying to me, as they had in court, that they would ever think of doing such a thing--murdering their spouse.

The woman sitting across from me in a red jumpsuit on this occasion is Piper Rountree. She's a mother of three in her late 40's, easy smile, smart eyes. Piper looks for all the world like the suburban mom she once was, wondering whether she has time to gas up the SUV before picking up the girls at piano lessons.

But this is a state prison for women in Virginia and so I ask Piper my occupational question.

"Did you kill your ex-husband, Fred?"

"No", she replied. She denied waiting in the driveway for her husband of almost 20 years. Denied firing three shots, hitting him twice as he walked to pick up the paper in his bedclothes.

In court, the prosecutor had described a murder plot elaborately planned and so ineptly carried out that detectives were onto the ex-wife within hours of the killing.

 When people asked me what I was working on I'd tell them a woman accused of killing her ex-husband. They'd think about it for a second and say-- as a juror in this case did-- she must have snapped.

Snapped. Curious. I can't recall anyone ever saying that of a male killer--a husband/boyfriend killing a wife/girlfriend. He must have snapped.

This is the third story I've done about a woman who kills-- it's almost a genre on-line: women who kill-- but in my very limited experience, it strikes me that the facts of a domestic murder are gender neutral. All three women were convicted of killing a partner after--according to prosecutors-- giving considerable thought as to how they were going to both commit the murder and get away with it.

Snapped had nothing to do with it. And now the question, did you kill your husband, is in no way more shocking, more taboo to me, than did you kill your wife.

Dennis Murphy's report on Piper Rountree, "Murder in Hearthglow Lane," airs Dateline Tuesday, 8 p.m.