That night, the police came and arrested Ellerbee, charging him with felony assault with a deadly weapon. Released on a $1,000 bond, he moved out of the house, at some point getting a room at the Holiday Inn off the interstate near the outskirts of town.
For Cockerham, having Ellerbee gone was almost worse than having him at home, because she never knew where he was or when he would turn up. All summer he followed her around town. He'd call and leave her messages. "I saw you at the Food Lion," he'd say, only to delete the message remotely with the codes he still had to the voice mail. He tampered with the fuse box and the gas tank outside the house. He left more messages.
In September Ellerbee pleaded guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a female and was put on three-year probation, on the condition that he not harm or threaten Cockerham. She agreed to the reduced charges because she didn't think the felony would stick—a view shared by Chad Brown, the assistant district attorney in Yadkin County who prosecuted the case. Brown thought the probation, which required Ellerbee to go to jail for 120 days if he harassed or hurt Cockerham again, would be strong enough to keep her and her children safe. The judge, Mitchell McLean, made a point of asking the clerk to note on the docket sheet that if Ellerbee violated his probation, McLean wanted to hear the case himself.
But the stalking continued. Cockerham couldn't sleep. She couldn't eat. She called the police, the sheriff, her domestic violence caseworkers. At the same time, Ellerbee also began complaining about his wife showing up at his house. "She came in a couple of times. He came in a couple of times," says Jonesville police chief Robbie Coe, who left the department in 2004. "It appeared to be a normal domestic situation, just fussing back and forth."
Most days Cockerham would check in with the Weyerhaeuser lumber plant where Ellerbee worked to make sure he was there and it was safe to leave the house. She started carrying a nine-millimeter pistol her father had given her years earlier. But as the weeks turned into months, she only felt more afraid.
One day in October, she was at the local phone company when he showed up and yelled across the parking lot, "I'm gonna get you. I will kill you before this is all over."
Again, she went to the authorities. On October 10, Ellerbee was charged with communicating threats, but as before, released on a $1,000 bond. Cockerham knew the laws by now, and took out an emergency protective order. This time she meant business. On top of the conditions for his probation, Ellerbee was ordered to stay away from the children's school and daycare center, and keep a 250-foot distance from Cockerham. "The defendant shall not assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass (by telephone, visiting the home or workplace, or other means), or interfere with the plaintiff," the order read. "A law enforcement officer shall arrest the defendant if the officer has probable cause to believe the defendant has violated this provision."