She Feared Her Partner Would Kill Her. Death Came Differently

The 'New York Times' looks at a years-long case of domestic violence
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2021 5:15 PM CST
She Feared Her Partner Would Kill Her. Death Came Differently
The Piscataqua River Bridge is shown in this stock photo.   (Getty Images)

“Your girl just jumped off the 95 bridge.” It was a text that made Detective Kristyn Bernier pull over her car and start crying, and it's the end to one woman's years-long tangle with domestic violence—but there's a coda. Writing for the New York Times, Ellen Barry has the story of Tanya Neal, a Maine woman who is 38 when the story opens in 2016 and had spent nearly half her life in two abusive relationships. When she was pulled over for erratic driving in April of that year, the officer noticed her bruised face; she said her partner, Nelson Dion, had threatened and assaulted her so often over their four years that she was once in a coma. As Barry explains, Officer Ryan Sanford "engaged all the elements of the criminal justice system at his disposal"—from prosecutors to social workers.

He got her set up in a New Hampshire shelter, which got her a job. And he handed prosecutors enough info that they were able to charge Dion with felony aggravated assault, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years. Per Dion's bail, contacting Neal would be another felony. But as Barry's piece emphasizes, restraining orders are routinely violated. That was the case with Dion and Neal. By late May they were together again, with Neal repeatedly calling the district attorney's office asking that the charges be dropped. In late June, she showed up to work with a front tooth knocked out. Days later, Dion and Neal fought over text. She pulled over on the Piscataqua River Bridge on I-95 and jumped. "This could have been the end of the story," writes Barry, but then something highly unusual happened: a federal prosecutor took on the case. (Read the full story to learn about the FBI sting on Dion, and the outcome of his case.)

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