THE BLOG
02/28/2012 12:09 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2012

When Divorce Turns Deadly

My senior associate walked into my office with an alarming look on her face that I had not yet seen in our years together practicing family law. She told me that the news stations were reporting a body found in a house that is in the area where her client lived.

Just the day before, she called her client to warn her that the lawyer for the unstable husband in the divorce had called to say she was considering having her own client committed to a mental health facility because he was acting irrationally. The day before that, they were all in our office for deposition questioning as to all of the issues in the divorce case.

My associate left the office and traveled to the house where her client was in a body bag after being shot and killed. The husband was found in the yard overdosed on prescription medication.

My associate had never experienced this before, but my mind goes back many years to a call I received in the middle of the night. "He shot my baby!" were the first words on the other end of the phone from my former high school classmate, in anguish over the news that her 26-year-old daughter had been killed by her husband during the middle of the divorce. I had been representing the classmate's daughter and had gotten a restraining order against her highway patrolman husband because of his threats of physical abuse to her.

My client was the definition of charming. She lit up the office every time she appeared. She was young, attractive and was one of the most positive people I had ever met.

Despite my request that the court order the husband to stay out of the neighborhood where they lived, the judge allowed him access to the office which was located behind the garage and had an outside entrance. The Husband said that he needed to be in that part of the house to store his traffic reports and that my client could place a lock on the door that led from the office to the rest of the house. He would enter the office only from the outside entrance and would not go into the house.

One day, he was in the neighborhood and saw the garage door open. He went straight into the house through the garage and shot my client. He then took the smallest paring knife in the set and stabbed himself near his left shoulder so that he could say that she attacked him and that he acted in self defense.

At the murder trial where I testified, the jury saw that it didn't make sense that she would attack him with that knife when there were much larger butcher knives to choose from in the same location. The former state trooper now serves his life sentence in a Florida penitentiary. My high school classmate will never recover from her loss.

Did I second-guess myself during that process? Oh yes, I did. Could I have said something more persuasive to get the judge to order the husband to stay completely out of the neighborhood at all times? Could I have been more persuasive to my client to move away from the house if he was going to be allowed to use the office there?

My associate will be going through the same second-guessing process. As a senior divorce attorney who thought she had seen it all and been through every circumstance with her clients, she is now going to find that she looks at life much differently than before. What advice can I give her? Continue to fight for your clients and work to protect them in every way. That is all that you can do. Sometimes, that is just not going to be enough.

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