Loved to Death

It was muggy and gray and the skies threatened rain the afternoon Dana Garner was murdered.

Her eight-year-old son, Ben, was home from school ill, and she'd hurried to see him. Peering through the windshield, the wipers going just fast enough to remove the drizzle that had been hanging in the air for the past four days, she pulled into the driveway of her southeast Denver home and into the garage.

Closing the garage door, she turned to go into the house. She didn't notice her ex-husband, Jim, lurking at the side.

"Dana," he called softly. She jumped, her heart racing at the sound of his voice. For nearly two years, Jim had been stalking her--breaking into her home at all hours, searching her belongings for "evidence" that she was seeing another man, stealing her money, following her to work, camping out in the bushes in the backyard.

On several occasions he had threatened to kill her. She'd told the Denver police she thought he was sick enough to succeed if they didn't stop him. But though Jim had been arrested more than half a dozen times for domestic violence and violating a restraining order, the smooth-talking former minister had never spent more than a night in jail.

She was a hysterical woman, he'd tell the police. He just wanted to see his kids. To Dana, lately it had seemed that the officers who responded to her calls for help were more impressed by Jim's silver Jaguar and his fine manners, even when drunk, than his four outstanding warrants.

"I need to talk to you," he said, in that slow Southern drawl that had once attracted her. Dana hesitated. Jim wasn't supposed to have any contact with her or the children, but the restraining order had been about as effective as a paper umbrella; nothing seemed capable of keeping him away. At least Jim was much calmer than the last time she'd seen him, a week before when he'd stormed from the house promising revenge.

In fact, Jim had cleaned up considerably from the disheveled drunk he'd become in recent months. His hair looked like it had just been cut, and he was wearing a neat blue blazer, gray slacks and a white dress shirt open at the collar. The only evidence of his drinking were the glassy, bloodshot eyes.

Perhaps Jim was going to give her some of the child support he owed, money she desperately needed to pay the rent and feed her three kids. Dana nodded. "Okay, we can talk," she said.

As they walked into the house, Ben came down the stairs. Jim smiled, reached into his pants pocket and pulled out some change that he handed to the boy. "Go count your money," he said. "And let your mother and I talk."

Ben headed dutifully back up the stairs. Dana led the way to the dining-room table next to the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard. They sat down across from each other.

Jim was cordial, his old sweet self. He pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and said, "Write down how much I owe you for child support."

Daring to hope, Dana picked up the pen and began to tally up the months he was in arrears. Jim sat expectantly on the edge of his seat, as if waiting to drop a bombshell. Some piece of really important information that couldn't wait.

When she finished, Dana pushed the paper toward him. But Jim just sat there, quietly looking at her. It was unnerving.

"Well, Jim," she said finally, trying to smile even as fear began to rise in her throat, "you're being very quiet. You wanted to talk...?"

Instead of answering, Jim leaned back in his chair. Although Dana couldn't see below the top of the table, she could tell when he put his hand in his blazer pocket and pulled something out. She could tell when he shifted whatever it was into his other hand. She could tell when he put his hand back in his pocket and pulled something else out.

At last, looking directly into her eyes, he began to speak. "Dana, God brought us together. I was meant for you, and you were meant for me..."

He started quoting from the Bible. Dana recognized it as a passage from 1 Corinthians. "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband."

It was part of a marriage ceremony she had heard him recite dozens of times. "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does...

"A wife is not to depart from her husband..."
Next would come the vows, a reminder of her promise to "love, honor and obey."