Globe and Mail

Police and courts credited with ending violence in one family

TRACY McLAUGHLIN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Rita O'Hara sits at her kitchen table sipping tea with shaky hands as she dredges up memories she would rather forget.

For Rita, the brutal slaying last week of Gillian Hadley by an estranged husband is a reminder of one horrible night of her own years ago. Ms. Hadley, 35, ran naked from her Pickering, Ont., home, clutching a child in her arms. Ralph Hadley hauled her back and shot her, then himself, in the head.

But Rita's story ended much differently. Rita (not her real name) of Barrie, Ont., lives safe and secure today, she says, thanks to the brisk actions of the police and the courts. Her ex-husband, who now lives peacefully in another town, agrees and credits prison for helping him turn his life around.

Ten years ago, Rita was the mother of two preschoolers and struggling in a relationship with an alcoholic husband.

"He was gentle when he was sober, but when he drank, he would become strange, and I was afraid of him," she recalls.

One night when he was drinking, they quarrelled and he left the house. Rita went to bed but woke up later in terror.

"When I focused my eyes I saw my husband, he had a lighter and he was trying to set fire to my hair. I jolted away."

Fear shows in her face as she tells her story and she fights back tears.

"He wanted the car keys. I had hidden them because I knew he would drink and drive. He dragged me off the bed and held my arm behind my back. I thought he was going to break it. He was in a rage. . . "

He put his hands around her throat, then around her head and began to squeeze with all of his strength. Then he tried to force sex on her.

"My little girl got out of bed and stood at the bedroom doorway, crying. I was thinking -- he's going to kill me right here and my babies will have no Mom . . . no Mom . . . I was sick with fear. . . ."

Somehow, Rita managed to get out of the bedroom, grab her daughter and fly out of the house, naked and screaming. She banged on the door of a nearby house, where the bewildered neighbour, although clearly disturbed by Rita's nakedness, took her in to call the police.

"They came within minutes," Rita says. "I think there were three or four police cars. I was afraid because my other child was still in the house. I told them and they all went running for the house. . . ."

After a fierce struggle, her husband was handcuffed, shackled and taken away. He never lived with her again.

"I thought they would just let him sleep it off and send him home in the morning. But no way," Rita says. "These cops were very serious about what happened. I had no intentions of charging my husband, but they said if I didn't, they would." And they did.

He was sentenced to two years in prison. A few years later, he returned, drunk, to her home. This time a neighbour came to her rescue when he heard her scream, and her husband fled. Moments later, he phoned and threatened to kill her. An hour later, he was in custody. He was sentenced to one year in jail for uttering death threats.

The ex-husband, 41, says that after a few more violent incidents and another stint in a federal prison, he has "had enough" and with some anger-management counselling lives a peaceful life.

He acknowledges that jail sentences were the only thing that finally helped him to turn his life around. "I guess it gave me time to stop and think."

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