MIAMI
02/05/2013 03:51 am ET Updated Apr 06, 2013

Martha Walker, Alleged Florida Ax Murderer, Will Argue She Killed Her Mom In Self-Defense

While her mother slept, Martha Walker hacked her with an ax, all because the 76-year-old woman refused to relocate from her Hollywood home to North Carolina, prosecutors say.

Walker's defense attorney will argue that the gruesome act of matricide does not equate to first-degree murder, but rather it's a matter of self defense.

The effort to seat the jurors who will make that distinction in Walker's trial began Monday morning and will continue Tuesday in Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes' courtroom. Opening statements and testimony are expected to start Wednesday.

At the time of Walker's April 2007 arrest, Detective Carlos Negron of the Hollywood Police Department said: "I've seen a lot of homicides, but I've never seen anything like this. What a disturbing case."

A family friend tipped off investigators about the death, but before police discovered Carmen Santiago's mutilated body -- her head wrapped in a towel sealed with duct tape -- in the bathtub of her home, they found the bloody hatchet.

A separate tip led police to Walker in a Dania Beach motel.

Walker, 44, of Fayetteville, N.C., faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of the first-degree murder charge.

Walker told police that an argument over relocating her mother from her tidy white home of 15 years in the 2500 block of Funston Street to North Carolina escalated into her accidental death.

Walker told investigators that Santiago refused to move, and to make her point she aimed a gun at Walker while they argued. Walker, in turn, grabbed an ax. When Santiago tried to disarm Walker, she fell on the ax and fatally sliced her neck.

"Because she couldn't look at her anymore," Walker told police she wrapped her mother's head with a towel and secured it with duct tape. She said she next put the body in an Epsom salt bath and bought lumber to build a box to transport the body.

The tipster told investigators that Walker had confessed to killing her mother with the ax while the elderly woman slept.

Neighbors, who said they had seen mother and daughter heatedly argue, described Santiago as a devout Catholic and a strong, active woman who tended elaborate, well-kept gardens in her front and back yards.

From behind bars, Walker landed another criminal charge for trying to arrange her husband's murder in 2010.

Walker was motivated by the fear that their pending divorce would revoke her access to her husband's life insurance policy, police said, and she had an unwitting relative give an undercover detective posing as a hit man a $1,500 down payment on the job.

That case is still pending in Broward Circuit Court.

tealanez@tribune.com, 954-356-4542 or Twitter @talanez ___