Criminal: 'Rochester, 1991'

Mar 17, 2017

In this week's Criminal podcast, we hear the story of a woman who suffered domestic violence for years. She then served 17 years behind bars for killing her abuser.

Host Phoebe Judge interviewed Rochester, NY activist Kim Dadou about her relationship with the late Darnell Sanders. They had briefly flirted in high school, but reconnected about a decade later, in the 1980s.

Dadou said she was accompanying a friend to court one day when she bumped into Sanders, who was there for his own case. She recalled Sanders claimed to have been jumped, and didn't think much of it. Dadou said she enjoyed single life in her twenties, but things quickly became serious when she started dating Sanders. She recalls that he was charming and romantic.

Phoebe Judge said Dadou was out with Sanders one night about six months into their relationship when Sanders proposed with his grandmother's ring. Reticent, Dadou declined. That's when, she said, Sanders began hitting her in the face and knocking her head into the car window. He said she led him on, and that she was unworthy.

Dadou didn't leave Darnell. He quickly became contrite. She said when "things were good" she was happy with him. But the violence didn't end, and sticking around didn't make her proud.

"I tried to hide it for a long time," said Dadou.

"I mean my sister, Janine, she's not really my sister, but she was my friend that was like my sister. She was also in an abusive relationship. We would sit at her kitchen table and she'd have a black eye and I'd have a busted lip, or you know, we're all bruised up or whatever. I'm saying, 'You should leave him.' And she would look at me and say, 'You should leave him.' And so it just went on."

Dadou stayed with Sanders for about four years, and the violence escalated as their relationship deepened. The police were called to intervene several times, and Dadou sought protective orders from the court more than once.

"Going to court was scary," she recalled. "Him lying to people at court was scary. Him making me look bad to the police and to the judge was scary. He said he didn't hit me. He said he didn't scare me. He said he didn't intimidate me or threaten me, when he did."

Then, one day in 1991, they were sitting in their car together when another argument began. Dadou said Sanders tried to force her to perform oral sex on him. When she refused, he began choking her while pressing her to his lap. Dadou said she reached for the gun he kept under the seat and it went off. She ran away. He drove off.

Sanders was found dead the next day. A jury didn't accept Dadou's self-defense case and she was convicted of first-degree manslaughter.

Dadou said she met many other women in prison who had been sentenced for violence against their abusers. She said they were supportive of each other, and it became like a sisterhood.

Dadou was released in 2008, and she still lives in Rochester. She's advocating for a state law that would allow judges to issue shorter sentences or alternatives-to-incarceration for survivors of domestic violence.

You can hear more about Kim Dadou's story on this week's Criminal podcast.

Criminal is recorded at WUNC.