Fort Worth woman broke free after years of abuse

Anna's ex-husband liked to strangle her with one hand while pinching her nose and holding her mouth shut with the other while he sexually assaulted her.

He'd wait until she was nearly passed out from lack of oxygen to revive her so he could do it again. The last time he battered her, it lasted for three hours before she could break free and call police.

"He controlled everything I did by threatening my family," said Anna, a 33-year-old Fort Worth mother of two. She spoke with the Star-Telegram on condition that her name not be used to protect her family. "I left with one bag of clothes for my daughters and me. I had to leave everything I worked hard for behind."

Anna's case made national headlines after her husband was convicted in 2008 of strangling an FBI office manager to death in North Carolina. He is serving life without parole in federal prison.

But Anna, who has changed her name and is under federal protection, still fears for her and her daughters' lives.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Eighty-five percent of victims are women, and most cases are never reported to police.

The Texas Council on Family Violence said 136 women were killed in Texas -- six of them by strangulation -- in 2008, the latest statistics available.

Advocates for victims of family violence say Anna is not unlike the millions of women battered each day who are caught up in a cycle of abuse, control, isolation and desperation.

"It is unlikely in a relationship that a female victim will ever be able to spontaneously overpower her male abuser," said Mary Lee Hafley, president of SafeHaven, Tarrant County's largest family violence shelter. "She's always going to be on the losing end."

That's exactly what Anna thought for six years of physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse from her husband.

When it began, he isolated her from her family and friends and didn't let her speak to them. Eventually, he began threatening her family if she disobeyed him.

"He knew my parents were my weak spot, and the more you hear them [the threats], the more you believe it," Anna said with a sigh and a glance at her father, Angelo. She says that without her parents and their support, she could never have escaped.

Angelo, who is a Desert Storm veteran and protective father, and his wife immediately came to her support once they learned of the abuse.

"What parent wants to see their daughter like that?" he said.

Sharing her story

Anna's journey through abuse spanned four states until her husband was suspected in the 1999 strangulation of the FBI office manager, who lived across the street from the couple in North Carolina. Anna said they never knew the woman, which is why she believes that her husband targeted her.

When FBI agents and other law officers began asking questions, her husband's violence intensified, she said.

"I always knew he was a suspect, but I didn't know what evidence the FBI had because he wouldn't let me talk to them," she said.

When she asked him about the case, he got angry and fired a gun in the kitchen, Anna said.

"You just don't question him," said Anna, who said she still winces whenever she sees a picture of him.

Anna left the home in 2003, after an attack for which her husband was jailed. She lived in four places, even outside the country, before settling in Fort Worth with her family.

Today, Anna volunteers her time and tells her story so others can see that there is a way out and that victims of domestic violence can break free.

"I always say to myself, 'He took away my past, but he's not going to take away my future,'" Anna said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.