KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - Bernadette Sugrim was just 17 when her then-boyfriend asked her to keep a secret.
"He told me that he had done something bad, that he had killed someone (in New York) and that he was asking for my forgiveness and my support," Sugrim testified in a Kalamazoo courtroom Tuesday about the man she married, Besham Sugrim. That incident happened in 1995.
Eight years later, he told his wife he killed a prostitute in Kalamazoo and disposed of the body -- and threatened her and their children if she ever told anyone.
Bernadette Sugrim didn't say a word until now, because, she said, her husband was sentenced to four years in prison for beating their daughter, and she finally felt safe enough to speak.
Eileen McKeever, an expert on domestic violence, said the Sugrim saga has a common theme.
"Often when people are abusive, what they want to do is hurry up and get married," she told 24 Hour News 8. "That gives them that tie, then hurry up and get them pregnant because then there are children involved." And that, she said, gives them "more power."
It's power the Kalamazoo prosecutor maintains Besham Sugrim used to kill and go undetected.
But the family of Linda Gibson, the woman slain in 2003, can't get past the fact her murder stayed unsolved for so long.
"A man comes home and told me that he had just killed someone, even if I was in that circumstance, I would have to go to the police," a member of Gibson's family said.
But McKeever understands. Bernadette Sugrim, she said, felt she was out of options. "She has no reason to doubt that he would kill here and it's not so much killing here, it's killing the children."
In court, Bernadette Sugrim read a letter she wrote to explain her own death, just in case:
"I am telling you this because my children are not safe with him," she wrote. "Please understand that I live in fear and that if I leave he will find me and kill me as well as my entire family I have no choice but to stay and try to make the best of it."
Besham Sugrim was bound over to trial on charges of first-degree murder.
If you have concerns, call the YWCA Domestic Crisis Center at 616.451.2744
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