I did not see the attack coming, even though the marriage was in crisis. My husband was troubled. For the past four months, he'd medicated himself with a nightly dose of alcohol and television. He was hostile. He was depressed. He was contemptuous and suspicious, interrogating me if I bought new clothes or left the house alone. He made bizarre, irrational statements that I had had "multiple affairs."
"You've been cheating on me for years," he would say, apropos of nothing. "Who have you had sex with today? Even I can see what's going on."
His accusations hurt and confused me. Why was he behaving this way? I wasn't unfaithful to him--not then, not ever--but he refused to believe that. I tried to get him to a marriage counselor, I tried to be supportive. I could neither convince nor comfort him.
"He's playing mind games with you," said the counselor. "Don't get into a dialogue with him. The question is how much can you tolerate his character flaws. It's not your job to take care of him. You have to disengage at some point."
And just as I began to give serious thought to disengagement, and how I'd manage that with a baby and a preschooler and a full-time job and a mortgage, I made a stunning discovery: My newly paranoid husband had a hidden stash.
I needed to use his car one afternoon to haul a piece of furniture. While making room for it in the trunk, I moved the jumper cables and uncovered a plastic drugstore bag. Inside was a large box of condoms and a receipt dated three months back. Nine condoms left, three missing.
Wife: I'd like an explanation for these condoms.
Husband: (Laughs.) They're for emergencies.
"If he wants to self-destruct your marriage, he can," said the counselor. "I recommend you sit down with an attorney."
On the next business day, I sat and talked divorce with the woman I'd eventually hire to represent me. I knew right then I'd go through with it. But I needed a few weeks--to prepare myself, to take care of business, to talk with friends. My husband and I barely interacted now. He lived downstairs. I lived upstairs. I treaded lightly.
I didn't want to trigger his anger, but I wasn't expecting physical violence. Passive aggression had been my husband's game. Over the years he had perfected his stonewalling skills, in both the marriage and the workplace. He resisted authority. He withheld information. He refused to cooperate. He distorted facts. He denied problems.
All that repressed fury exploded on a Saturday night in the summer of 1995. He tried to force the most degrading kind of sex upon me. He followed up the violence with terror by threatening to separate me from our two children. The police arrested him in his underwear. And he's been lying about what he did--to parents and friends and attorneys, to psychologists and probation officers and judges--ever since.
"He probably intuited that he was losing more control--that's when the bad behavior accelerates," commented a friend in the aftermath of the attack. "It sounds like he's living in a real separate reality."
The facts of my domestic-violence experience are at once intimate and insidious, the kind of abuse perpetrated behind closed doors by men who feel entitled to control their women. Because of the sexual nature of this crime, the case files are protected, available only to the attorneys of record and to me, the victim. It's the kind of demeaning experience a woman has every right to file away forever.
But I think the case needs to be scrutinized. It illustrates not just the failings of one man, but the inability of the criminal-justice system to deal with him quickly and effectively. Nearly three years after the offense, the courts have yet to make this convicted wife-batterer pay for his crime or seek help for his behavior. Faced with an obstructionist, the system has been tied up in knots.
He won't say what he did. He won't do what they say. And though the divorce was long ago resolved, my ex-husband's criminal case lives on in the Colorado Court of Appeals, where it will likely remain for another year and a half. He has retained and dismissed a handful of attorneys. Now he represents himself. With any luck, he will finally do his jail time at the turn of the century.
"It's frustrating," a prosecutor admitted after the last court date, where, despite the state's efforts to get him jailed for violating the terms of his probation, it became clear that my ex-husband's day of reckoning would be postponed. "He's obviously thumbing his nose at the system. He's very manipulative. I've never seen a probation revocation take this long."
My story relies on three years of collected documents, transcripts and notes--file upon file of them, all chronologically ordered and precisely labeled. As a journalist, that was the best way I knew to make sense of the events that transpired.
I am no longer "victim" but "accuser," which is how my ex-husband now refers to me. "Everyone in the family knows who the real victim is in all this," his mother once announced to me. After I was awarded sole custody of my sons, she wrote the court: "Christine's skill in building on false and unproven statements has been beyond anything [our] family could ever imagine."
I had done what women under attack are supposed to do--call the cops, report the crime, don't back down, show up in court--and for my trouble I was being portrayed as a liar.
"[He's] good at rationalizing," the marriage counselor said of my ex. "He will blame you for everything."
I'd been out on the front lawn in my nightgown nearly fifteen minutes when the police cars converged on my silent Park Hill street. Their lights were not flashing. The night air was hot.
My Saturday evening had begun uneventfully. I fed and bathed my children. My husband stayed out until 7:30. He was dressed up and had a new haircut. He wouldn't say exactly where he'd been. We hardly spoke. I put the kids to bed. I read a magazine upstairs; he watched television and drank beer downstairs. I turned out my light at 10 p.m.
A few minutes later, drowsy but not yet asleep, I sensed something wrong. I opened my eyes to see him, backlit by the hallway light, moving fast into the room and toward the bed. He ripped the sheet off me. He was pissed, he was naked. He had an erection.
"What's this? What's this?" he repeated in a high, menacing sing-song as he twisted a tube of lubricant inches in front of my face. He had found that old tube of K-Y jelly in my underwear drawer--the one my ob-gyn had recommended I keep on hand while I was nursing my baby the year before. Except he didn't remember that, and he certainly didn't want to hear a rational explanation now. The tube, you see, was proof positive of my "multiple infidelities."
Over and over, as I lay propped up on the bed, he leveled his accusations. Not only was I having affair after affair after affair, he said, now I was engaging in anal sex as well. The man was out of his mind, and for the first time, his behavior terrified me. I could only stare at him. I was too frightened to say anything.
"You've butt-fucked everyone in town," he said finally. "Now it's my turn." He jumped on top of me. He pinned my chest down with his forearm while he tried to maneuver my legs into position. I fought him. He grabbed my upper arms, pushing me down as I struggled to get up and away from him. I was screaming. He took a bed pillow and pressed it over my face. He threw it aside. He squeezed the jelly into his hand and smeared it onto my face. He threw the tube at me and walked out of the room.
I remember going into the bathroom and washing the stuff out of my eyes. I remember grabbing the cordless phone and running downstairs. I remember hearing the shower turn on upstairs. I remember leaning against the kitchen counter and holding on to it for balance, because the room felt strange. I remember not knowing what to do next. I remember dialing information and asking if there were any listings for women's crisis hotlines.
Are you in trouble? the operator asked. If you're in trouble, you need to call 911.
I got a dial tone. Then I realized the shower had stopped. My husband was coming down the stairs. I switched the phone off. I moved to the front door and unlocked it, hiding the phone behind me. I stood in front of the screen door, frozen. He paced through the house, moving past me again and again, spitting out more insults.
"You're the enemy," he said, jabbing his finger in my direction. "We're getting a divorce."
"You're a slut," he said. "I should take your things and throw them out of the house."
"Stop abusing me," I said at last.
"I should push your face into a hot barbecue grill," he replied. "Then you'd know what real abuse is."
I found my strength and turned to unlatch the door. He pushed it open and shoved me down two steps and out onto the sidewalk.
I called 911.
The officers who arrived at the house wanted to know what had happened, where he was and whether he had a gun. Had he made any threats? I told them he had attacked me and I told them what he had said about the barbecue and the child abuse. He was probably in the basement. I didn't know of any gun.
Some officers stayed with me outside while others went in to find him. They led my husband out, dressed in a T-shirt and boxers, and put him in a car. They were taking him to jail, they said, and asked me to get some clothes and shoes for him.
Still in shock, I sat at my dining-room table with a female officer for what seemed a very long time. I confided to her, no doubt more than once, "I can't believe this is happening to me." I wrote a two-page statement and circled the relevant body parts on the assault chart. A male officer went through the house with a flashlight and checked on my children, who had slept undisturbed through it all. He found nothing wrong. Before the officer left, he told me that my husband, while sitting outside in the squad car, insisted that I be charged with child abuse.
"I just want you to know," he said, "that charge is going nowhere."
The next few days were a blur of fearful activity. I had the locks changed. I ordered a burglar-alarm system. I filed for divorce. I canceled the joint credit cards. I got a restraining order. I bought a cellular phone.
Figuring my husband would bond out of jail and come after me, I hid out with my children in a hotel for three days and nights.
We weren't back home more than an hour when he pulled up with a locksmith. He stood out in the street, yelling at me to give him his house keys. I didn't hesitate this time--I dialed 911.
The court had issued a temporary restraining order the day before. It barred my husband from our home and from having any contact with me except to arrange visitation with the children. My divorce attorney had handed him a copy of it in the courthouse, but he had refused to sign a waiver of service. That meant we'd have to find him and formally serve him.
The TRO allowed him to come to the house once, within 24 hours, to collect his belongings. But he had to bring a police officer with him--he couldn't just break in. It was maddening to learn from the sergeant who answered my 911 call that my husband could not be charged with a violation because he hadn't yet been formally served.
That afternoon I got a call from the detective on the case. She had arranged for a police photographer to take pictures of the bruises that had appeared on both of my upper arms. Now she wanted to tell me that she'd encountered my husband in the police building the day before. She'd overheard him tell the front desk officer that he was going to my house with a locksmith. "I told him not to go there without an officer," she recounted. My husband phoned her after the incident. "He said, 'I thought she'd be at work; that's why I called a locksmith. I left immediately as soon as I saw her.'" The detective thought he was "covering his butt."
This lack of cooperation and brazen defiance of authority would characterize his behavior throughout the criminal-justice process. If there was a weak link anywhere, my husband would exploit it to his advantage. He was aware of the contents of the TRO. He heard the detective's warning. He ignored both of them, and he got away with it.
The detective had been to my house to gather the evidence: the bed sheets from the master bedroom, the pillow, the washcloth, the lubricant. She was laconic and reserved in manner, as many cops are, but still friendly. I wasn't expecting the police to confiscate all my white bed linens, nor to be labeling them with permanent black ink. "Mark it under the label," I heard the detective tell her colleague with the pen. "She might want this stuff back." They also took photos of the bedroom and of the recycling bin piled full of my husband's discarded beer bottles.
Soon afterward I got a surprise visit from the police. It was a Sunday evening. Two men in an unmarked car moved slowly down my street, watching me as I watered the front lawn. They stopped, got out, walked toward me. I feared bad news. A Denver police lieutenant from another district introduced himself. He wanted to check on my welfare because my neighbors--his friends--had asked him to. He gave me his card and told me to call if I ever needed help. His partner gave my little boys baseball cards.
I appreciated the gesture so much because, despite all the precautions I'd taken, my own home did not really seem safe anymore.
I would feel even more threatened when I discovered the ultimate evidence of my husband's paranoia.
About a month after the assault I decided to clean out the closet in my son's bedroom. My husband had stored a lot of belongings in there, and I wanted to pack them up. Instead, I found a brand-new VCR attached to a cable that ran through the closet wall and up the back of the bookcase. Hidden among the volumes on the top shelf was a small video camera, pointed in the direction of the bed. My husband, I remembered, had been fixated on "unexplained stains" on these bedsheets. He thought I'd been having "noontime trysts" on my three-year-old's bed.
Feeling violated all over again, I searched every corner of the house. In the basement I located cartons and receipts for two Radio Shack cameras. Given my husband's mindset, I knew the other camera had to be in the master bedroom. But where? I didn't notice anything odd about the room until I knelt in front of the television set. That's when I saw the camera eye staring out from a panel next to the screen. He had mounted a surveillance camera inside my TV. It pointed toward the bed.
This stuff gave me the creeps. The camera in my son's room had been carefully encased in black tape for camouflage. The holes in my television had been painstakingly carved. My husband's behavior was no longer merely abusive, it was sick.
People shook their heads when they heard about the cameras. "It sounds like he's been living in fear--for a long time," observed one of my friends. "In order for him to feel okay, he had to make you out to be wrong. He had to prove it."
My husband had paid $850 for the surveillance equipment, and he'd set it up the week before the assault. Later my attorney asked him why. "I was tired of Christine lying about things," he said. "She wouldn't admit to the infidelities." He claimed he had nothing on videotape, that he'd operated the cameras only a couple of times--"for a few hours in the middle of the day, around lunchtime." Because the cameras weren't used during the assault, there was no guarantee the judge would allow them to be brought up at trial, but the DA intended to try. They certainly showed the depth of my husband's obsession and how badly he wanted control.
I notified the detective about the cameras and she came to my house one evening to get them. While her partner dismantled my television set, I wrote another long police statement.
"Do you see this kind of thing often?" I asked her as we packed the equipment into her car.
She paused for a moment. "It is unusual," she said.
Calling the police for help had not been an easy decision. For one thing, it went against the grain of my experience. Liberals my age learned early on to keep cops at a distance. You did not telephone them to solve your problems. For another, I knew that a domestic-violence call meant a police report filed and a husband charged. And as eager as I was to be free of him and his abusiveness, I was just as eager to preserve my privacy. Dial 911 and his shameful behavior would be exposed, and so would I. Could I face a bunch of cops and tell them what he'd just done to me? The thought was paralyzing.
I think the fear of exposure--a perfectly natural impulse--keeps many women silent. But talking about what happened proved therapeutic for me. I told the cops, I told the lawyers, I told my friends. I also tried to cultivate some sense of humor about my situation, despite the fear, because that helped get me through it. The assault was intended to intimidate and humiliate, but I wasn't buying into that.
I can't say enough about the Denver police. They were thorough. They were smart. They were responsive. They were kind. They'd taken my abusive husband out of the house and kept me safe. They'd prepared a solid foundation for the court case. The system had worked as it was supposed to.
If only the remainder of the justice process had gone as smoothly.
My husband faced two criminal charges--attempted first-degree sexual assault, which is a felony, and third-degree assault, which is a misdemeanor. As summer ended, I learned I would have to appear at a preliminary hearing, where a judge would determine if there was enough evidence to proceed in district court. I met with the deputy district attorney and the victim advocate, both competent and supportive women. I sensed some skepticism, though, and I feared they doubted my account. No, no, they said, I appeared to be a very credible witness. They were merely sizing up their prosecutorial chances, given that so few women end up challenging their attackers in the criminal-justice system.
The victim as a rule is reluctant to testify; without her, there often is no evidence or witness to convict the offender. And although in the past I might have faulted such a woman's lack of courage, today I am more charitable. If the result is that she will be emotionally revictimized, who can blame her for wanting to let it go?
"It's his word against yours," the prosecutor explained to me. "The case rises and falls on you." Besides that make-or-break pressure, the victim endures the fear and exposure of a public trial. She risks retaliation and intimidation by the offender, an important consideration if the two remain linked by money or children. And she struggles to get over the assault emotionally as long as legal motions continue to be filed.
I testified at the preliminary hearing, two months after the attack. Wearing my best suit and my mother's earrings, I calmly answered questions for nearly an hour, explaining to a roomful of strangers how my husband had become so suddenly and violently obsessed with the idea of "butt-fucking." The judge found probable cause and bound the case over for trial.
There followed numerous discussions with the DA's office about a plea bargain, but my husband rejected all offers, obstinately denying the sexual allegations. The court set a trial date, first in April, then in July, one year to the day after the assault. I resigned myself to waiting. "Truth is the strongest defense," the prosecutor assured me. "He knows what he did. That's gonna prey on his mind. What he did is not excusable. It's a crime."
During that long year, neither the child-custody evaluation nor the divorce could proceed. My husband would not discuss "the night in question" with the evaluator or my attorney until the criminal trial concluded. In the meantime, he kept up appearances by spending several thousand dollars on designer clothing. And he kept up his obsessive behavior from a distance: hiring a private investigator in Aurora to try to dig up dirt on me; calling AT&T to make a play for my long-distance phone records; asking my co-workers for information about me. My husband, it seemed, was intent on regaining control.
On the morning the trial was to begin, surrounded by family members, my husband accepted a generous last-minute plea. He would admit guilt to the misdemeanor; the felony charge would be dropped.
My husband had avoided having to publicly explain his behavior. I had avoided the trauma of a trial but also lost an opportunity: to relate, on the record, everything that he'd done to me. Protected by lawyers and a restraining order, I still did not know exactly what he had to say about the assault. I would watch that tap dance later, during the divorce proceedings.
In August 1996, my husband appeared in Denver District Court for sentencing. The prosecutor had encouraged me to write a letter to the judge expressing my thoughts. I outlined how my husband had retaliated against me. I described his lies and denials. I requested "the most stringent psychological counseling requirements possible under the law." The judge sentenced him to two years' probation, the standard 36-week course of domestic-violence counseling and a mental-health evaluation. For the last, which the prosecutor said happens in about half the cases, my husband was to undergo a battery of tests. Depending on the results, additional counseling might be ordered.
To me, the concept of an anger-management group seemed too subtle for a guy who viewed the backyard barbecue as a marital aid. But at least there was a plan. After six weeks went by and I'd heard nothing, I called my husband's probation officer to introduce myself and check on his progress with the classes. I also wanted to tell her that he'd been harassing me: Every time he came to my house to pick up the children for a visitation, he set up a video camera on the trunk of his car to photograph me. He would testify later that he "wanted to record the exchange" because I had written a letter to the judge.
"He's not in domestic-violence counseling," the probation officer told me in a tone of exasperation. "He refuses to take the classes. He refuses to sign the terms and conditions of probation. He doesn't want to do anything."
She had told him he couldn't drink any alcohol during the probationary period. "That's bullshit," he told her. "I'm going to drink." Based on the police reports, statements by the victim and departmental guidelines, she had recommended that a psychosexual evaluation be part of his mental-health exam and had referred him to a state-approved psychologist. He refused to take the tests: "He denies that he attempted to sodomize you," the probation officer told me. "He says there was nothing sexual about the case."
She filed a complaint in district court, enumerating the violations and requesting that probation be revoked and he be sentenced to the county jail.
I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Probation was his new battleground.
My ex-husband has never expressed remorse for assaulting me. More worrisome is that he won't admit the basic facts of the incident. Even after pleading guilty to the assault, he refused to take responsibility for it. "I didn't plead to it," he told my attorney. "I felt pressured into it."
Instead, he fashioned his own version of our last marital encounter, a story I first heard in August 1996, during our divorce deposition and our child-custody evaluation. The latter was a $6,000 study conducted by a court-appointed psychologist for the purpose of recommending whether custody of the children should be sole or joint. The evaluation included psychological testing and extensive clinical interviews. My husband told the evaluator that I had accused him of sexual assault "as a way to hurt him and gain advantage over him" in the separation. He also said he was certain I'd been cheating on him because I was "dressing provocatively," I had refused to have sex with him, there was "the unexplained smell of another man's cologne on [our] bed," and I had received "a sexually harassing call...from an unidentified man."
At the deposition, he told this story, uninterrupted, as we sat at a conference table with our attorneys:
Well, we were going to have sex, and I discovered that in the top drawer where we keep the condoms...was a white tube. And I pulled the tube out and looked at it and it said K-Y jelly on it and it was about half used...[S]o I said, "What is this stuff?"...And when I persisted, she said, "That's old. I've had that a long time." And I felt something on my finger as I was handling it and there was residue...around the cap area of the tube. And I said, "If it's old, why is this stuff here? This is fresh." She didn't say anything and I said, "What do you use this for?" And she continued to say nothing.
And I wanted an answer because we never used K-Y jelly for anything...I pressed what I was saying and approached her. She was sitting on the bed and she said, "Get out." She said, "Shut up and get out." So I brought the tube closer, I was probably about a foot and a half from her face, and I said, "I want an answer. What is this?" And she knocked it out of my hand at that point. As I bent down to pick it up, she shoved me with her foot and I fell over, landing on my opposite side on my hip rather hard, and that angered me further. I got up and picked up the tube and I squeezed some out on my left hand and I think I called her a bitch and grabbed her forearm, left forearm, with my right hand and then smeared a dollop of K-Y jelly on the lower part of her face. I think I called her a "slut" and said that "it was over" and "I've had enough" and I threw the tube on the floor and went in the bathroom, took a shower.
When I came out of the shower...she was not in the bedroom. I checked on the kids...and they seemed fine...I went downstairs...I passed by the kitchen and Christine was standing in there...with the portable phone. She wasn't on it but she was holding it...[T]hat kind of bothered me that she had the phone. I went back to her and I said, "What are you doing with the phone?" and she didn't say anything...And then I said, "Well, if you're calling the cops you're making something out of nothing and I can do the same thing." I said, "If the cops show up here...I'm going to fill out a complaint of child abuse against you."
I think it was at that point...I said, "As far as I'm concerned, we're divorced. This has gone too far. All we have to do now is make an appointment for next week. Let's not involve attorneys. Let's just sit down and sort out our affairs." You know, I just made it clear that the marriage was over...I just wanted a resolution of issues that would be pertaining to the divorce. And at that point she said, "You're going to jail," and started dialing the phone. And I said, "You don't belong in this house." And I took her arm and moved her; she was standing fairly close to the entryway to the front door. I moved her toward the door, taking her arm around the elbow area. She didn't want to go out, but I just kind of leaned into her and made her go out the door...
And then she dialed 911 and she said that her husband was threatening her...I was disturbed that 911 had been called, but I just didn't know what to do. I just decided to get as far away from her as I could, so I...went to the basement...and decided I would just wait for the cops to get there and we would sort it out, because I could tell there was no way of discussing this thing rationally with Christine.
Then about fifteen minutes later, the cops came in and they called me and I said, "Come on down," and they said, "No, you come up here." So I went to the top of the basement stairs and they arrested me.
Once I got over the initial insult of his absurd accusations--by his account, I had initiated the physical confrontation--I tried to put this rendition in some perspective. Like the surveillance cameras, it, too, struck me as creepy, for both the extent of the distortion and the tone of nonchalance. He seemed to consider it perfectly appropriate to "move" me from room to room and then out the door, as though I were an inconveniently placed object. And I had to marvel at the subtext of his morally offended manhood, a sense that all men would surely comprehend his emotional state: That unfaithful slut provoked me! Anything she got, she deserved.
I also began to worry how this particular wife-batterer would fit into the prevailing treatment system. If accountability--accepting responsibility for one's behavior--was the cornerstone of domestic-abuse counseling, how would an inveterate denier like my husband benefit? I doubted that weekly group meetings were going to mend the thinking of a college-educated man in his mid-forties. And I believed my husband needed help. For my children's sake, I wanted to see him get it.
The custody evaluator's analysis of my husband confirmed some of my own concerns. The psychologist drew his conclusions from interview observations of both parties as well as from the results of the MMPI-2, a personality test composed of 567 true-false questions.
In his 33-page report, the evaluator discounted my husband's accusations of infidelity. I appreciated the vindication, given that my husband had repeated his lies about me at every opportunity. "[F]rom the data presented, it seems unlikely that Christine had extra-marital affairs... Christine would have to be quite amazing...to work full-time in a demanding job while caring for two young children and still have the time and energy left over to put into other relationships. On top of all that, given [her] attention to detail and general competence...it would seem if she were to have had an affair, she would be quite capable of finding some place to do it other than the marital home."
I was disgusted by my husband's behavior. Besides the lying and cheating, there was the stench of a man willing to sacrifice his sons to the scrutiny of Social Services in order to retaliate against his wife. His attempt to file a bogus child-abuse charge against me on the night of the assault put our children at risk.
But on another level, his behavior was intriguing: How could an intelligent person deceive himself to such a degree? I once asked the evaluator: Do you think he knows that he's lying? Or has he really convinced himself that the assault never happened?
"He is disallowing your reality," the evaluator suggested. "He's saying, 'You shouldn't have reacted that way. You're making it seem like a sexual assault, but it wasn't. It doesn't mean what you say it means. So it's okay for me to deny it.'" During his court testimony, the psychologist noted "some real problems" and expressed the hope that my husband would get into therapy.
"It doesn't sound like he understands probation," said the marriage counselor when I told him about my husband's continued resistance. "Everything they're doing is standard operating procedure. They'll identify him as a problem and they'll put more energy into him."
Which didn't necessarily mean he'd suffer more consequences. "Judges haven't been all that supportive" of revocations, the probation officer told me. Even the prosecutor felt my husband's recent videotaping of me when he picked up the kids should not be included in the grounds for revocation. "It falls under the catch-all of 'harassment,' but it's not a direct violation of probation," she said.
In early November 1996, my husband finally met with the state-approved psychologist who'd been recommended by the probation department. Among other things, the doctor was requesting a multiphasic sexual inventory, which assesses deviant thinking; an Abel screen, which measures sexual interest; and a polygraph. He explained to my husband that if the testing indicated a need for sexual-offender treatment, the doctor would consider a spousal rape group more appropriate for him than a general sex-offender group. My husband still refused to take the tests and told the doctor he intended to try to withdraw his guilty plea and take the case to trial.
At a revocation hearing in mid-November, a district court judge ordered my husband to sign the probation department's standard terms and conditions. The court would consider the merits of his motion to withdraw his plea in early December. I was told that my husband's defense attorney was advising him not to withdraw the plea.
At the December hearing, the attorney argued that his client shouldn't be ordered to undergo a psychosexual evaluation because the offense he was convicted of did not involve improper sexual conduct. Such an evaluation would be "tantamount to a factual determination as to whether the sexual nature of the original allegations were indeed true or not," the attorney said. He also argued that, should the psychosexual exam and sex-offender treatment be required, my husband should be entitled to withdraw his plea because he was not advised that these would be conditions of probation. Had he known, he would never have entered the plea.
The prosecutor pointed out that she did not view my husband as a sex offender under the criminal statute. Rather, it was the probation department's psychologist who, after reviewing various reports, had recommended the psychosexual component of the mental-health evaluation.
"Were you ever made aware of the fact that there were cameras mounted in the home directed toward the victim's bed?" the prosecutor asked the psychologist.
"Yes," he testified.
The judge denied my husband's motions. He ruled that it was proper for the court, in fashioning a sentence, to consider charges dismissed at the time of a plea. He also determined that, given the facts behind the original charge, requiring a psychosexual evaluation was a reasonable condition of probation for purposes of rehabilitation and protection of the community. "We are dealing with an evaluation here, not treatment, I would point out," he said. Furthermore, a sex-offender treatment program was a collateral consequence, not a direct consequence, of probation; thus, it was not required that a defendant be made aware of it before entering his plea.
My husband then asked to withdraw his guilty plea based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. His attorney withdrew from the case, and my husband said he wanted a public defender. "It doesn't seem to me to be a very difficult motion in terms of legal complexity," the judge said. "I can give you approximately two weeks to come in here with an attorney." It took four months to get a hearing on this remaining issue. During these four months, my husband's probation was held in abeyance. He could do as he pleased. Our divorce also became final.
In April 1997, the new public defender put my ex's former attorney on the stand. "I did not believe he would be subject to sex-specific treatment as a result of this plea," the lawyer testified. In discussions about a mental-health evaluation, the subject of sex-offender treatment did not come up, he said. To no one's apparent surprise, the court found no evidence of shoddy lawyering. A mental-health evaluation was the direct result of the plea, the judge pointed out. The psychosexual component was an indirect result, a requirement that "could not be known by anyone." The judge at last denied the motion to withdraw the guilty plea and ordered my ex-husband back on probation.
Over the next couple of months my ex-husband continued to resist the supervision of his probation officer. "I can't get him to do anything except show up in my office," she told me. "He won't do the psychosexual evaluation or the polygraph--this is standard procedure given that the police report indicated deviant sexual behavior. He told me, 'It wasn't a sex crime. I didn't plead to that.'"
The probation officer had given him a list of three state-approved psychologists who could do his evaluation. He refused to choose one of them. Instead, he decided to proceed with his own psychosexual evaluation, at a cost of $800, to be conducted by a psychologist of his choosing. "The choice of [this doctor] is an appropriate one, as he brings an objective perspective to the case," my ex-husband wrote to his probation officer. "He doesn't know me or you, and he has no conflict of interest, unlike therapists routinely used by the probation department... When a probation officer has already made up her mind about a defendant and what treatment program he should complete, an evaluator might very well feel pressured to come to the same conclusion."
In June, probation filed another complaint with the court, outlining the brouhaha over the psychologist and again requesting that my ex-husband go to jail. Instead, a month later, the judge ordered him to undergo a psychosexual evaluation by the state-approved doctor.
When my ex-husband at last showed up for his evaluation--two full years after the assault--he informed the psychologist he would submit to any tests presented to him but would not under any circumstances talk about "the night in question." He gave the doctor a letter listing "the facts of conviction" and offered him the deposition from our divorce case. The doctor insisted on a face-to-face verbal interview about the assault allegations, saying he could not do a complete evaluation without such a discussion.
In August the probation department filed a third revocation complaint, once again recommending that probation be revoked and the defendant be jailed. A hearing was set for early October 1997.
My ex-husband had spent the entire year subverting the goals of the criminal-justice system. He had to be ordered to sign the probation forms. He had to be ordered to take the tests. He was defying the judge. He was bossing around his probation officer. He was dictating the terms of his evaluation. The bully brought the same controlling behavior to the courthouse as he did to the marriage. And for the most part, he had prevailed.
I don't imagine the Denver District Court encounters many domestic-violence defendants who wear Armani neckties and research the relevant case law. Faced with his resistance, the system seemed powerless, enduring his repeated assaults and according him every legal latitude. As long as he filed his motions and made his appearances, the court would deal with his misbehavior in a perfectly systematic way.
At the final revocation hearing, against the advice of the judge, my ex-husband decided to dismiss his public defender and represent himself. Although the judge stated at the outset that "the issues are fairly limited"--whether my ex was ordered to cooperate with an evaluation, whether or not he did in fact cooperate, and whether the prosecution could prove he didn't--the hearing went on for hours. The transcript covers 110 pages. The court hadn't yet punished the offender, but the offender appeared to be punishing the court.
The gist of my ex-husband's argument? The process was "unfair" and "skewed" against him. "What I'm trying to establish is that this evaluation process as described and directed by the probation department was, in effect, a trial behind closed doors," he told the judge. "[The doctor] had been asked to determine whether or not I'm a sex offender, and hanging in the balance is sex offender treatment. If I'm put in sex offender treatment, he might as well say, 'You're going to jail,' because as part of that treatment you have to admit whatever they say you did. So for me it's a trial they were wanting to conduct, a circumvention of the legal process."
From his perspective, it was a conspiracy of grand proportions, and he was the victim. The psychologist's motives and ethics were not to be trusted. My ex-husband questioned him over and over on the same points. Among other things, he wanted to know why the doctor wasn't conducting a polygraph exam of his "accuser." The probation officer was biased, he declared, and she "translated that bias into an unfair environment in her office." He grilled her, too. Finally, the judge put an end to it and revoked his probation.
The prosecutor asked for jail time. Otherwise, he said, my ex-husband would be back before the court "claiming another technical violation of his due process rights, based on his peculiar understanding of the law and his situation." My ex-husband made a long statement, repeating his lies about how I was an unfaithful wife and how he "moved" me out the door and how he may have bruised one of my arms, which is why he took a plea, and how my testimony was riddled with "numerous inconsistencies." Arguing the implausibility of a sexual assault, he pointed out that "there were no injuries [or] torn clothing"; that neither the neighbors nor the children heard my "alleged screams"; that I had not made a 911 call at my "first opportunity"; and that he was "calm [and] quiet" when the police arrived.
The judge remarked on my ex-husband's history of "substantial obstinacy and manipulation" in dealing with his probationary sentence. "For whatever reason [the defendant] has demonstrated as a matter of choice that he is not amenable to probation supervision," the judge said. Noting that my ex-husband's credibility was "not particularly high" and quoting from the report of his hand-picked psychologist that "the defendant has little ability to realistically observe himself and to understand how his behavior shapes the events which brought him into court," the judge denied probation and imposed the minimum sentence of six months in the county jail. Four months would be suspended if my ex paid a $3,000 fine over the next five years and if, during that time, he violated no laws other than minor traffic violations. If he paid the fine early, the period of suspension would be reduced to two years.
The prosecutor who handled the hearing told me afterward that my ex-husband's demeanor was arrogant and shameless. "The sentence is not as harsh as I'd hoped for," he admitted. "But another judge could have reinstated probation or imposed just a fine." He also lamented that the judge hadn't ordered him into custody right away: "That would have sent a good message, I think."
The judge gave my ex eight days to get his affairs in order and he authorized work release once he was incarcerated. My ex-husband stated that he intended to appeal--"there are constitutional issues, as well as basic fairness under the law"--and requested an appeal bond. In other words, he wanted to post bond and stay out of jail until the appeal was heard. The judge ruled that there were "no apparent grounds for appeal" and denied the bond.
Within days, however, the judge issued an order on his own to rehear the matter. He'd read a recent case that might affect the appeal bond decision. He soon granted a $1,000 bond. My ex-husband was not going to jail after all.
The prosecutor tells me there is "no chance" my ex-husband will win on appeal but says "he's smart enough to push the right buttons." According to the judge, the case hinges on the "close question" of whether or not my ex still had a Fifth Amendment privilege at the time he refused to answer the psychologist's questions about the original felony charge. The appellant intends to assert that the probation revocation violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process, protection against double jeopardy and privilege against self-incrimination. He also believes the trial court erred in limiting his questioning of his probation officer. He must file his opening brief with the Colorado Court of Appeals by October 1998.
If my ex-husband had done his probation quietly, it would be ending right about now.
A few weeks ago I got a letter from the Internal Revenue Service, notifying me that my ex-husband had filed no tax return for 1995, the year of the assault.
This is a man who believes the rules do not apply to him. He will listen to no one. Not to a Denver police detective. Not to his probation officer. Not to a court-appointed psychologist. Not to his own defense attorneys. Not to a district court judge. Not to the IRS.
But his battles are no longer mine.
I sold the house where the assault took place and made a fine profit. I sold the brand-new surveillance cameras to the owner of a bar on South Broadway, who was grateful to have them. I left the tube of K-Y jelly to rest in peace in the property room of the Denver Police Department. I passed along my ex-husband's address to the polite woman from the Internal Revenue Service.
I have moved on, and life is good.
Editor's note: Christine Brennan's ex-husband was offered an opportunity to write a companion piece to this article. He declined. In a letter to Westword, which is owned by New Times Inc., he explained his decision, writing, among other things:
"I must admit that New Times is unique. What other media organization in the country would allow its executive managing editor to use one of the corporation's newspapers to further a highly personal and malicious campaign against a former spouse? There are holes in Christine's story. There are discrepancies between the various versions of them on record. There are implausibilities regarding her claims and her behavior. A story that does not examine those factual problems--particularly when a paper allows it to be written by someone with such a glaring personal bias--would be published with reckless disregard for the truth."
Metro resources for victims of domestic violence:
Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Statewide referrals for domestic-violence shelters. 831-9632, or toll-free, 1-888-778-7091.
Project Safeguard: Legal assistance, including restraining-order and divorce clinics. Hotline 863-7233.
Karlis Family Center: Counseling, support groups, legal clinic. 462-1060.
Promoting Alternatives to Violence Through Education: Family-violence education programs in schools, family counseling, group counseling for juvenile victims and offenders. 322-2382.
Stalking Rescue: "Proactive" victim education and intervention. 797-2635.
SafeHouse Denver: Support groups, legal-assistance clinics, family and friends support groups, children's groups, referrals to safehouses and other resources. Hotline 892-8900.
Servicios de la Raza: Group and individual therapy and education, advocacy support, referrals to emergency funds and other services. Geared toward Spanish-speaking clients. Hotline 458-7088.
Denver Victims Service Center: Crisis hotline for victims of crime, short-term crisis counseling, and emergency financial assistance for Denver victims. Hotline 894-8000; TTY 860-9555; Spanish language 461-8587.
Family Violence Intervention Program: Jefferson County-run program offers referrals, counseling, family evaluation for local residents. 271-6966.
Gateway Battered Women's Shelter: Shelter for female victims and their children, non-residential counseling and support services, Arapahoe County criminal-justice program. Hotline 343-1851.
Women in Crisis: Safehouse referrals, advocacy, restraining-order clinics in Jefferson County. Hotline 420-6752.
Boulder County Safehouse: Safehouse referrals, advocacy/support for battered women and children in Boulder County. Hotline 444-2424.
Women's Crisis Center of Douglas County: Safehouse shelter, residential and "out-client" counseling for women and children, recovery support, child-care support. Hotline 688-8484.
Alternatives to Family Violence: Adams County-based services for battered women, children's shelter, "out-client" treatment program for offenders, support for women seeking to leave abusive relationships. Hotline 289-4441.
Brandon Center--Volunteers of America: Safehouse and shelter for homeless women and children, education, employment services, self-esteem groups. Hotline 296-9090.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.