Veronica Williams

A collection of family snapshots of Veronica Williams, who was stabbed to death after seeking a protective order against her husband. (Baltimore Sun photo by Glenn Fawcett / December 12, 2008)

On her way to get a protective order against her husband, Veronica Williams drove by the home where their marriage had fallen apart - where he had attacked her with scissors and cut off her hair.

The District Court was just five blocks from their North Avenue rowhouse. She believed her husband had abandoned it to elude arrest for domestic violence.

She had decided to end her nine-year marriage, but on this day, a final series of coincidences and missed opportunities would lead to her death.

She spotted his SUV first. And then - on a cloudy Monday afternoon in November - she saw him walk down their front steps, carrying some belongings.

She drove on, hoping he had not seen her. A few minutes later, her cell phone vibrated and rang. She opened the text message.

"Where are you?" her assistant, Teruko Taft, asked.

"Entering the courthouse," she replied.

Taft typed back: "He saw you."

The 28-year-old woman standing before Baltimore Judge Jeannie J. Hong had a flawless face. Her words, as soothing as her beauty, were delivered like a doctor calmly giving bad news to a stranger in a waiting room.

Veronica gave her name, raised her hand and swore to tell the truth. She told the judge she had been married for about 10 years and had three children - ages 8, 7 and 5.

With the routine questions out of the way, the judge gently asked her why she was there. Veronica began to recount what happened at the three-story brick rowhouse at 2 a.m. Oct. 19, after she told her husband she was leaving him for the second time.

The judge interrupted, incredulous. "He cut all your hair off?"

"Yes. I screamed as loud as I could. No one responded but the children. They came downstairs."

The judge cringed.

"And they watched?"

"They didn't see anything because when he saw them he did stop. He sent them back upstairs, and then he kicked me out of the house."

Hong specializes in handling domestic violence cases. When she has reason to believe a victim might be in imminent danger, she knows what to do. She sends a security guard to escort the victim to her car. She ensures that the victim gets legal assistance, emergency shelter and other services.

But Veronica gave no hint that her husband had attacked her before. She never said how terrified she was. She never indicated that he might be lurking outside.

Before Hong granted the protective order, she asked Veronica if she wanted to tell her anything else.