The same day the video was shot, Susan made a fateful decision. As she was sitting in a room with her oldest son, her husband gestured toward her. "He looked at my son and he said, 'You see, that. That's the road you're headed down if you don't straighten up,'" Susan says.
With that comment, she says she came to the realization that Ulner could possibly end up killing her. So Susan made the decision to leave.
When Susan got to work the next day, she was covered in bruises from the previous day's beating. When Lynne, her friend and boss who knew about the abuse, came over to check on her, Susan says she said, "Today is the day."
Lynne called the police. "They came to my job, they took pictures, and we developed a plan," Susan says. "[I needed] time to decide, where are we going to go? What are we going to do? We had nowhere."
As Susan fled with her sons, Ulner called her repeatedly, trying to track her down. Police recorded the phone calls to document his violent threats. In one he screamed at her, "If you don't bring my son home, I'm going to kill you, heifer."
After years of abusing his wife, Ulner was finally arrested. At trial, Ulner's behavior shocked the prosecutor, Lisa Bloch Rodwin. "I've never seen such arrogance," she says. "He was making eye contact with the female jurors and trying to look like he was king of the world and that he could control them the way he controlled everybody else. … When he was interviewed by the probation department, he blamed Susan for putting him in this position. But the judge said to him, 'You still don't get it. You have destroyed these children. You have destroyed this woman.'"
In her closing arguments, Lisa played the videotape for the jury one more time. "What I said to the jury is, 'He keeps saying, I have to teach you.' And I asked the jury to teach him."
They did, finding Ulner guilty of 12 counts of assault and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The judge sentenced him to 36 years in prison—reportedly the longest sentence ever given for this kind of domestic violence. He's not eligible for parole until 2022.
Lisa emphasizes that while the 51-minute videotape put a horrific face on the abuse, it was not the most important piece of evidence in the case. "That videotape shows a misdemeanor assault punishable by up to only one year in jail," she says. "You don't need a videotape. You need to document your injuries."
Ulner got such a stiff sentence, she says, because of the numerous times—not recorded on any tape—he beat Susan with items like books and belts. "Those dangerous instruments make it a felony," Lisa says.
Susan didn't keep records of her abuse…but Lynne, her vigilant boss, did.
When Lynne began noticing signs of abuse in Susan, she wanted to make sure she wasn't overreacting. So she started making notes in a calendar every time she witnessed a sign of abuse—the appearance of bruises, Susan acting withdrawn, coming to work late or being frequently absent.
Lynne even overheard Susan call Ulner "Master" in her frequent phone calls to check in with him.
"One of the huge tips to me was there was a time that [Ulner] had to leave town for a while. And while he was gone, she was a different person," Lynne says. "She was, you know, free and comfortable." Find out what you should do if you suspect a friend or loved one is being abused.
When she thinks of the tape of her own violent beating, Susan refers to the woman in it as a different person from herself—calling her "she" rather than "I."
"She's a different person to me, but she's very much a part of this person here," Susan says. "I look at her and I think, 'How could you have let yourself get to that state? How could you have let this happen to you?' But I know how I did. So I guess she's a different person to me now. But I know she's here and she's helped me be who I am today."
Abuse comes in many forms—yet it does not have to be as physically violent as this videotape to still be destructive. Sometimes the abuse is emotional control and isolation from family and friends. Other times, it consists of name-calling and humiliation, economic control or threats of violence.
Recognizing the signs of abuse—especially in instances where physical violence is not involved—is not easy, sometimes even for those being abused. Learn the signs of domestic abuse.
If you think you or someone you know is being abused, it's important to tell someone before it's too late.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE
to find help in your area.
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