ELIZABETHTOWN — Before John King was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for strangling his wife, the judge gave the victim a chance to have matters play out a different way.
“I wonder whether or not this case might be better going to trial,” Essex County Judge Richard B. Meyer said, referencing the severity of the domestic-violence attack.
King had sidestepped an attempted-murder charge when, on the day of jury selection for his trial, he made a plea agreement.
The former Westport man admitted guilt to felony strangulation, throttling his wife, Meredith King, on Sept. 25, 2011, even as their young daughter was in the home, hiding and watching.
Meredith was injured, rendered unconscious and made incontinent in the attack.
CHILD SAW ATTACK
In a powerful victim’s impact statement at the sentencing, she described how John had punched her and strangled her, cutting off her breathing. And then he choked her vocal cords so she couldn’t scream, keeping pressure on her neck until she fell unconscious.
Meredith said he dragged her into a corner, where she came to, with John still in the room.
He offered no help and made no calls to summon any assistance. Instead, he threw the phone at her.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said, “with (my daughter) upstairs. There is no terror like losing the ability to get air in or out.”
It was she who eventually managed to call 911 to report the attack.
Meredith said her mother came to the house, alerted by police cars, and John warned her: “Don’t ask any questions.”
John then took a gun, went to an outside location and threatened to kill himself, Meredith said.
Her voice did not waver as she said that, without a day in court, she had been unable to bring forth witnesses, photographs and evidence to tell her story.
Meredith said that incident was not the first time her husband had threatened her. Police had been called to the house in 2005 for domestic violence.
“In John’s own words, he said, ‘‘Til death do us part,” she said.
Meredith said she realized she had to be the one to protect their two children, who are now ages 8 and 10.
“Nothing about this event is age appropriate,” she said, allowing that neither of her children, both victims as well, know all the details of what happened that day.
A custody case involving the children is still moving through Essex County courts.
Meredith described the challenges of bringing the case through the court system.
“Decisions about contact with the man who nearly killed me were beyond my control,” she said.
Essex County has no provision or resource for supervised visitation.
Out on bail, John was allowed to live with family in a nearby community with a GPS monitor on his ankle.
But police came to Meredith’s house at 4 a.m. one day because they had lost track of him.
“The time John was out on bail was the most terrifying time of my life,” Meredith said aloud in court.
“I didn’t know how to explain to my daughter that, if her father showed up, she should dial 911.”
She said their daughter has said she, too, is afraid that her daddy might hurt her like that.
During visitation, supervised by members of John’s family, he told the children he would be out of prison in seven or eight years, Meredith said.
“I will always see John as a threat to me and my children,” she said.
“I dread the day he is released.”
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague told Meyer that John King is a master manipulator who can twist facts.
“He comes up with great stories when he has to defend himself.”
The prosecutor pointed to John’s lack of remorse in the pre-sentencing statement and to his lack of concern for his children.
“Why this day in particular?” Sprague asked aloud of the attack. “This was the first time the victim was able to get the bags in her car.”
Sprague said John asked for the plea “because he knew he couldn’t smooth-talk the evidence.”
The young daughter was set to testify, the DA said.
“She told me she witnessed what happened to her mother — she saw her father punch her mother … strangle her mother in the chair … and drag her mother’s body to a corner. Then she ran upstairs and hid.”
When Meyer halted sentencing to be sure Meredith did not want to bring the matter to trial, she turned and looked with surprise at Sprague, who then took a brief recess to discuss it with her.
They opted out, seeking an end the 17-month ordeal.
John, wearing a wrinkled suit, a tie and shackles, had no comment when asked in court if he would like to make a statement.
Along with the 10 years in state prison, Meyer sentenced him to an additional five years of supervision for felony strangulation.
He also issued an eight-year order of protection barring John from contacting Meredith after he is released from prison.
And the judge suspended visitation rights of the children to see their father in jail, pending evaluation of what harm, if any, his visits with them have had in the past 17 months.
“Until you entered a guilty plea,” Meyer said to King, “you were presumed innocent. I never heard the evidence.”
Meyer said courts can’t decide on paperwork alone, giving John King credit for admitting guilt.
“But that’s about all I give you credit for.”
Meyer did say he has pressed the state judiciary to allow judges to think about victim safety when considering bail.
‘LET HER THINK AGAIN’
After the court session, Meredith said she was surprised when Meyer asked if they wanted to bring the case to trial rather than continue with the sentencing.
In court proceedings, she said, “you kind of lose your voice. But now that he was able to hear my side of the story, the judge was second-guessing, allowing me to think again. I think that says so much for any victim.”
Meredith, a nurse by profession, said Sprague was very supportive and a strong advocate throughout the past 17 months.
Directing a comment to friends and neighbors through the interview, she said, “Women protect their children. They are not staying (in an abusive relationship) because they want to. They’re staying because they have to.”
This case was the first time New York’s new strangulation law was applied in Essex County.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org