A 36-year-old Garryowen woman was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Thursday for running over her husband with her car and leaving him for dead in 2016.
Vernelle Lynn Badbear was sentenced in U.S. District Court for driving her minivan over Freman Robin Bends on Nov. 4, 2016.
Bends, 38, remained on the roadside and died two or three days later, according to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Watters. A highway painter discovered his body after eight days.
The courtroom gallery was full, with Bends’ family sitting on one side and Badbear’s on the other.
Bends’ father, uncle, cousin and others described him as a family man, helpful in orchestrating holiday get-togethers and known for his playfulness with the grandchildren, tossing them in the air and catching them. Daughter Tinaya Chief said her father would often agree to take care of her infant son for the day, even at a moment’s notice.
“He never said no,” she said. “He would call it ‘daddy day care’ and he would send me pictures during the day of them playing together.”
Bends’ mother, Rosie, sobbed as she spoke to the judge.
“He was such a good person,” she said. “He was such a happy person to be around.”
Badbear’s family members did not speak.
Badbear hit and drove over Bends after the two got into an argument over his drinking, according to the government’s offer of proof. Badbear was angry with Bends for drinking alcohol when he was supposed to be watching the children, she told investigators.
Bends left the house and began walking down the road. Badbear went to a neighbor’s house and asked them to watch the children, got into her vehicle and followed him, the government’s filing states.
In court Thursday, Badbear’s attorney, David Merchant, asked what would prompt his client, who had no criminal history, to jump “into the deep end” that night.
Merchant said Bends had physically abused her for years, in one case beating her so badly she lost consciousness.
“He was a lousy husband, and he was a lousy father,” Merchant said, his voice rising.
Merchant described how Badbear would make excuses for her visible injuries in order to cover for her husband.
“So the man that’s described here is absolutely true to that family, but not to Vernelle,” Merchant said, referencing Bends' family's testimony.
Badbear spoke briefly, crying while apologizing to Bends' family and to her own family, "with utmost sincerity," she said.
Badbear said she was grateful for the counseling she's received after being charged and now understands her mental health problems, which she said stem largely from past abuse.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek asked for a 15 year sentence, while Merchant had asked for “less than four years.”
Watters, the judge, said Bends might have survived if he’d gotten medical help.
“There is no explanation for what happened, […] other than she was at the end of her rope,” the judge said.
Watters ordered five years of supervised release after Badbear completes her prison term.
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