Domestic violence judicial history will be made at 10:00 AM on Monday, June 29, when Vernetta Cockerham-Ellerbee will finally get her day in court. It’s a preliminary hearing for a jury trial.
Rita Anita Linger, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is calling for solidarity for Vernetta and to “demonstrate support for justice.” Ms. Linger wants domestic violence court watchers to show up en masse at 9:00 AM to serve as silent witnesses in the court room of the Hon. Edwin G. Wilson, Jr. at the Yadkin County Courthouse in Yadkinville, NC. Supporters will be wearing purple and white ribbons. Purple is the color of domestic violence. White is for “silent no more.”
You may remember Ms. Linger was the advocate for Heather Thompson. If Heather’s story made you angry, Vernetta’s story will spark outrage.
Vernetta’s house (see photo above) was just 150 feet from the Jonesville police station, folks. A cop was standing outside the police station when she called to report her estranged husband Richard was in the field across the street digging her grave. Did they arrest him for violating the protection order? No. Did he spend a night in jail? Hell, no. [I said you’d be outraged. Keep reading.]
Vernetta got her protection order after Richard beat her with a baseball bat and tried to suffocate her with a pillow on Independence Day, 2002. It proved to be just a piece of paper. The News & Observer reported in a cover story how Richard ignored it with impunity:
For months, Ellerbee ignored that imaginary line [250 feet that Ellerbee couldn’t cross without breaking the law], according to court records. That summer and fall, Ellerbee beat Cockerham-Ellerbee, stalked her on errands, tampered with her fuse box, threatened her relatives and took off with their son Rashieq one afternoon.
As November’s chill settled over Jonesville, Cockerham-Ellerbee knew her husband was at a breaking point.
“There was never a break,” she said. “That’s a bomb getting ready to pop.”
He broke into her house and stole a coin collection. He dug the graves. He showed up at their son Dominiq’s day care.
Jonesville, NC, is a small Piedmont town of 2,000. It’s not hard to find somebody. But, the cops had to be the laziest cops on the planet. They made Vernetta go to a magistrate for an arrest warrant. Minutes after it was issued, Ellerbee was tailing Vernetta’s car.
If you’ve ever lived in a little town, you know that everybody knows everybody’s car or pickup truck. A cop drove right by Ellerbee and Vernetta, and he let Ellerbee slip through the cracks. . .twice in one day.
The next morning (11/19/02), Ellerbee murdered Vernetta’s daughter Candice. When Vernetta came home, he brutally stabbed her multiple times. A few days later, he committed suicide in New Jersey by dousing himself with kerosene and setting himself ablaze. Pit bull through and through.
But, this wasn’t the end of Vernetta’s nightmare. It was just the beginning. Her crippled hand means she has a hard time finding employement. She has nightmares. She lost her house in foreclosure. Jonesville officials weren’t even remotely sorry the cops weren’t there for her. They harassed her after she sued them.
The trial court dismissed her suit, but she won on appeal. Now, Vernetta Cockerham-Ellerbee will finally get her day in court ~ almost seven years to the day from when her nightmare began.
She’s suing for punitive damages. I hope she wins. I hope she wins big.
Ms. Linger will be in the courthouse, and I’ve asked her to keep us posted.
Vernetta’s story is slated for the August issue of Oprah’s magazine.