By Linda Crowel's account, her marriage was an endless stretch of meanness and humiliation.
"We had one good year when we both got out of high school in 1979," said Ms. Crowel, 33. "He only hit me once that year, but he made me apologize."
Still, they stayed together -- until July 10.
That morning, according to police, Robert John Hall tried to force a loaded shotgun down his wife's throat.
Now, Mr. Hall, 31, is in the Anne Arundel County jail, awaiting an Oct. 3 trial on a charge of assault with intent to murder. And, after 16 years, Ms. Crowel is seeking divorce.
Mr. Hall's lawyer, Pamela North, has advised her client not to discuss the case. Jerome Stansbury, who represented Mr. Hall at an Aug. 9 preliminary hearing in District Court, said then that Mr. Hall never intended to kill Ms. Crowel.
"There's no doubt there was an assault," he said during the hearing. "The only question is if there was an attempt to murder."
That violence sparked this crisis is not unusual. Every day, county police get 30 to 60 domestic violence calls. The courts handle 150 cases every month. The women are beaten, bruised, raped, hospitalized.
Officer Gerald Jones, who works the midnight shift in the department's Northern District, said he helps about three women each month. Jann Jackson, associate director of the House of Ruth in Baltimore, said women often find themselves in abusive relationships because they don't recognize the warning signs.
"Early warning signs are often misinterpreted by girls," Ms. Jackson said. "Jealousy is seen as flattering."
Ms. Crowel and Mr. Hall, who both grew up in southeast Washington, D.C., started dating when she was 16 and he was 14. Three years later, she said, they were locked in a cycle of
She said her husband became possessive -- a sign of potential trouble, say experts who treat victims of domestic violence. Possessiveness often extends to threats to kill the wife, girlfriend, or members of her family, experts say.
Ms. Crowel said she took her husband's threats seriously. She said his marriage proposal was simple: If she didn't do it, he would kill her.
On April 13, 1992, police were called to the couple's home in Laurel. As the officers tried to control the scene, Mr. Hall punched one of them in the back several times. He was charged with battery on a police officer.
In September 1992, he was convicted in District Court, %o sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and fined $20 plus court costs.
"The judge asked me if I wanted him to come back home," Ms. Crowel said. "I said, 'Yes,' because I knew he'd get out anyway."
Ms. Crowel said she believes most battered women don't press charges because "the men get right back out. It's not worth what you get."
Michaele Cohen, the director of the YWCA's Woman's Center in Arnold, said the fear of retaliation makes many women hesitate to press charges.
"It's a legitimate reason," she said.
Usually women try to make the relationship work before making "the very hard decision" to press charges, she said.
Ms. Crowel said that when she took a job at a lawn service in Burtonsville recently, her husband gave her 10 minutes to be home after her quitting time of 4 p.m. Still, she tried to prevent the disaster she felt was inevitable.
The break came July 9, after an argument over a friend's annual barbecue. Ms. Crowel said she had never been allowed to go. But this year, her friend had just given birth to twins.
"I was determined I was going to see those twins," Ms. Crowel said.
According to court charging documents, when Ms. Crowel arrived home shortly after 2 a.m. July 10, Mr. Hall grabbed her by the hair and threw her across the table. He is accused of trying to force a loaded model 870 Remington shotgun into her mouth three times, all the while threatening to kill her, then himself.
She told her husband she had left the keys in the car. It was a trick she had learned over the years: Say something completely rational to stop the attack.
When he went outside, she called 911. When police arrived, he hid in the woods. But the officers did not leave. They waited. Three hours later, he came out of the woods and was arrested.
Now, with her husband's trial approaching, Ms. Crowel wonders what will happen. Her biggest fear is that he will come looking for her.
"Maybe if the penalties were more strict against abusers, they would think twice before raising that fist," she said. "And if someone was prosecuted for abuse and got real punishment the first time, maybe there wouldn't be a second time for some. I don't think, even after all this time, abuse is taken seriously enough."