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Aug. 21, 2007
Man who killed wife failed bar exam four times
Couple's life started picture-perfect, then his career stalled and he began to brood as he saw her success

Born of a giddy high school romance, family members said the marriage of Clifton Eames and Mina Rosenthal seemed to be a sweet waltz to success.

He wanted to practice law; she yearned to fix teeth. Paying for school, supporting their two young sons and running a household sometimes were tough, but together they had a dream.

But somewhere along the way, the dream soured.

photos

Clifton Eames took the couple's children to his parents' home and wouldn't allow his wife to visit unless she saw him as well.
Johnny Hanson: For the Chronicle

Eames, a Washington, D.C., law school graduate, failed the state bar exam four times. His career stalled as his wife's soared. Rosenthal-Eames graduated with high honors from Prairie View A&M University, then enrolled at the University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston.

Eames brooded and grew possessive. He accused his wife of being unfaithful and made the ominous pledge: "We're going to die. I'm going to handle you."

Earlier this summer, Rosenthal-Eames filed for divorce. Relatives said the couple were scheduled for a divorce-related hearing Tuesday in Harris County family court.

Rosenthal-Eames' attorney, Derrell Wright, said Eames fought the divorce.

Wright said Eames took the couple's children, ages 9 and 12, to his parents' home in Baton Rouge, La., and wouldn't allow his wife to visit them unless she saw him as well. "It was a control issue," Wright said. "He wanted to control her."

Eames often verbally abused his wife, the lawyer said. Once, he said, he heard the man say, "You're not going to finish dental school. I'll see to that."

Fired multiple rounds

Monday afternoon Eames made good on his promise. Police say he fired multiple rounds into his wife's body as she approached her parked car in the 1800 block of El Paseo, not far from her Reliant Park-area apartment. He then hoisted her into the sedan and drove to St. Mark's Episcopal Church at 3816 Bellaire Blvd., where he instructed church workers to summon police.

When Southside Place and West University Place police arrived, Eames began shooting. Officers Alex Gomez, who had been with West University one year, and Stephen Mulligan, a 23-year veteran of the Southside Place force, returned fire.

Eames was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, where he died of multiple wounds. Rosenthal-Eames, 31, was declared dead at the scene. The shootings will be reviewed by the district attorney's office.

"I'm feeling I'm to blame," said Shelli Stewart of Atlanta, a cousin in whom Rosenthal-Eames confided her marital woes.

Ralph Roubicek, Rosenthal-Eames' stepfather, said the couple had agreed to support each other as they pursued their educations. When Eames found that he could not practice law, however, he became upset that his wife was in school rather than working.

"This is a terrible sad story," Roubicek said, "because what it all boils down to is that a wife didn't do what her husband wanted her to do. Mina was just doing something that a lot of women don't have the guts to do. But Mina did. And it cost her life."

Stewart said her cousin had worked as a dental assistant since she was 19.

Wanted to be doctor

In December 2004, Rosenthal-Eames was featured in a Houston Chronicle article about a competitive Prairie View A&M program that provided students entering health care career real-world experiences. The young chemistry student spent a semester researching such topics as health care for the poor and the impact of HIV/AIDS on the dental field.

"I knew I wanted to be a doctor," she said, "but I wasn't aware of issues going on in the medical field."

In January 2007, Eames also was featured in a Chronicle article this one focusing on a move by the Texas Supreme Court that lifted a rule that limited law graduates to five attempts to pass the state bar exam.

Eames, who repeatedly had failed the test, lobbied for the action, but said it didn't go far enough. "It was a fairness issue," he said at the time. "We had blacks and Hispanics affected by this rule."

Even though the restriction was lifted, Eames said he was not persuaded to take the test again.

"I'm going to take it when I feel it's fair," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's still not fair."

At the UT Dental Branch Tuesday, Rosenthal-Eames' fellow students decorated her locker with hearts and the letters "D.D.S" fashioned out of red dental wax. The locker door was festooned with cards and notes.

"You will always be with us," read one.

"You are in the hands of God and in a better place," said another.

Students hung a white dental school coat on the locker door. At the locker's base sat a vase of flowers.

'Caring individual'

Dental school Dean Catherine Flaitz described Rosenthal-Eames as a "determined, confident and caring individual." Rosenthal-Eames, she said, participated in a number of volunteer activities, including teaching elementary school students the basics of oral hygiene.

The woman was a second-year student in the four-year program. An orthodontics speciality, which she planned to pursue, would have taken an additional two to three years.

"The dental branch really is a family, and this type of tragedy that is so unexpected, involving one of our own students, greatly saddens all of us," Flaitz said.

A memorial service for the medical community is scheduled for noon today at the dental school. Relatives of Clifton Eames could not be reached for comment.