Valentine's Day 1995 was not going well for Sally and Ray McNeil.
Not that either expected love poems and roses.
Both bodybuilders and ex-Marines, the couple's awful eight-year marriage was wearing out, ground down by vanity, jealousy and muscular machismo.
Yet Sally seethed that evening when Ray was late in showing up at their apartment in Oceanside, Calif., north of San Diego.
She was spoiling for a fight when he finally arrived after 10 p.m.
Shantina and John, Sally's preteen children from another marriage, cowered in their bedroom as the combat commenced. The kids knew the drill.
As a prosecutor later said of the marriage, "That's what they did - they hit each other."
And neither was the sort to surrender.
Ray McNeil, 29, was a buff 256-pounder who was named Mr. California in 1991. Sally, a 34-year-old ripped blonde, had won the U.S. Armed Services Physique Championship twice in the late '80s.
But this confrontation would be different. It would be their last.
As Ray stood at the kitchen stove cooking chicken, Sally asked him to explain where he had been.
After some shouting, Shantina, 11, said she heard a "gurgling" sound, as though her mother was being choked.
Sally went to a closet, removed a 12-gauge shotgun from its case and chambered a shell. She walked back to the kitchen and pulled the trigger.
The shot blew a hole through Ray's six-pack abs. He fell to his knees, and his wife loaded a second shell and shot him in the jaw.
She then called 911. In the background, Ray could be heard moaning, "Why, oh god, why?"
Shantina ran to a neighbor's apartment, hollering, "Oh my God! My mom shot my dad!" As Sally waited for police, the neighbor overheard her say, "I just wanted him to leave me alone."
Ray McNeil was still alive and conscious when police arrived. As he listened to Sally tell cops that he had choked her, the bodybuilder tossed his bloody head from side to side and uttered a firm "No!"
He was declared dead two hours later, and Sally was charged with murder, causing a sensation in the insular world of bodybuilding.
Ray McNeil, a native Jamaican, was among the top 20 professionals in the nation in his weight class.
Sally, who grew up in Allentown, Penn., was an amateur bodybuilder, but she used her physique to earn money in niche muscle sports, including female submission wrestling and a semi-erotic amusement known as apartment wrestling, in which men pay to grapple with muscular women.
She used the nickname "Killer Sally" in those enterprises.
It fit, said her first husband, Anthony Lowden.
He said his ex-wife had become "unhinged" after taking up bodybuilding.
"As sure as Ray McNeil lies dead, it could've been me," Lowden told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
She had been arrested in 1990 for pulling a pistol on Lowden and shattering his car windows with a crowbar. Days later, she had a violent fight with McNeil and dropped a 70-pound weight on his car from a balcony as he was leaving her. Also in 1990, she was sprayed with Mace after she fought with police officers who were called to investigate the wellbeing of her children.
In yet another incident that year, she was barred from bodybuilding competitions for a year after pummeling a woman spectator she suspected of sleeping with her husband.
And during a 1993 visit to her hometown, she assaulted a police officer who was called to a bar when she went "berserk" after a bouncer ordered her to stop dancing on a table.
"This was not an isolated incident of violence," prosecutor Dan Goldstein said of the slaying. He called her "aggressive by nature."
Elevated aggression is a trademark of "roid rage," of course, and abuse of anabolic steroids is endemic to bodybuilding.
Blood tests revealed that both Sally and Ray were on steroids at the time of the homicide. She tested positive for Deca-Durabolin, the same substance allegedly used by baseball star Roger Clemens.
Ray McNeil's body had five different kinds of steroids.
At trial a year after the slaying, defense attorney Bill Rafael portrayed Sally McNeil as a battered wife and victim of 'roid rage.
"The issue in this case is Sally McNeil's right to use force in an honest and reasonable manner against her abuser," he said, "in order to stop the beatings, the rapes, the sodomies, the tortures."
Prosecutor Goldstein countered, "The defendant is anything but a battered wife. She is one of the most violent persons I have ever prosecuted."
The jury convicted McNeil of second-degree murder. Sentenced to 19 years to life, she is still imprisoned today, nearly 14 years later, at the state slammer for women in Chowchilla.
In a recent interview with bodybuilding writer Leigh Penman, Sally McNeil talked tough and accepted no blame.
She portrayed her dead husband as a steroid-popping philanderer who began beating her on the third day of their marriage and never stopped.
McNeil did not reflect on her own history of violence and steroid use.
As her 50th birthday approaches, she has no definitive parole date. She said she bides her time working out.
"Killer Sally" McNeil crowed, "I am still a lean, mean fighting machine."
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