SUFFIELD—Ronald DeMello beat her and allegedly pointed a pellet gun to her head in the past.
But Jadwiga Bodnar, a 66-year-old package store owner, was devoted to a "kind, loving" side of DeMello that police never saw, and the two were determined to be together.
At a time when state officials are examining how to keep better track of violent parolees, this is a case with a twist: a victim of abuse who continually sought out her assailant.
When DeMello was charged with assaulting her in 2004, Bodnar begged the judge to release him. After he was instead sentenced to three years in prison, Bodnar visited him 128 times in 2005 and 2006, according to records released to The Courant this week.
DeMello has been released from prison three times since -- once on a furlough and twice on parole. Two of the releases came despite a parole officer's warning that DeMello "will in fact hurt someone" if paroled, records show.
All three times he was released, he was caught at Bodnar's apartment in Suffield, in violation of the state parole board's conditions, records show.
The first two times DeMello was found at Bodnar's apartment, parole officers reported fresh bruises on her face. The third time, Sept. 7, she lay dead from blunt traumatic injury to her abdomen.
Police said they are waiting for an autopsy report from the state before determining whether to charge DeMello in connection with Bodnar's death.
Politicians are demanding to know why DeMello was allowed to have contact with Bodnar, the victim of the assault that landed him in prison.
"I just can't imagine why that would be allowed," said state Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, who has called for a review of DeMello's parole. "The state has a responsibility to protect the public even if they're not acting in their own best interest."
A Tortured Relationship
Police, prison and parole files for DeMello depict a man struggling with alcoholism and a volatile relationship with a woman who seemed both to love and fear him.
Suffield police had responded to a steady stream of domestic disputes between DeMello and Bodnar at her home since at least 2003. During a 911 call from Bodnar's apartment Dec. 5, 2003, a dispatcher wrote in a call log: "Party states that her male friend is abusing her and she can not take it anymore."
Calls like that prompted Suffield police, when on patrol in Bodnar's neighborhood, to routinely look up DeMello's name to see if there were any outstanding protective orders against him. DeMello had been arrested in Massachusetts and charged with three counts of assault and battery and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon before moving to Connecticut, records show. It was unclear whether he was convicted or served prison time.
During one incident in Suffield in 2004, Bodnar claimed DeMello shoved her to the ground, pointed a pellet gun at her head and slapped her when she tried to get up, according to an arrest warrant. In another incident the same year, Bodnar, her face covered in bruises, asked officers to "keep" DeMello for two days.
"She explained that he has been very `nasty' lately," an officer wrote in DeMello's arrest warrant.
A judge eventually issued a protective order prohibiting DeMello from entering Bodnar's home and from contacting her -- an order DeMello violated four times in 2004. During a court hearing in which he pleaded guilty to the violations, Bodnar spoke on his behalf.
"I just want to take him home," she told Judge Howard Scheinblum, "Please, because we're supposed to get married. How are we going to be separated?"
Scheinblum asked her when they planned to marry, but she misinterpreted the question: "Because I love him," she answered.
Assistant State's Attorney Christopher Parakilas, who prosecuted cases against DeMello, recalled that Bodnar "just couldn't say no" to DeMello. Most of the time, he said, "We were protecting Bodnar from herself."
Scheinblum released DeMello and continued the case until December 2004 with the condition that DeMello commit no act of violence or threaten Bodnar. But in December, DeMello was charged with third-degree assault on an elderly victim after police said he slapped Bodnar multiple times, leaving bruises on her chest, cheek and arm.
DeMello pleaded guilty to the charge under the Alford doctrine, which means he didn't admit guilt but conceded that the prosecution probably had enough evidence to convict him. In January 2005, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
While DeMello served his sentence, Bodnar was allowed to visit him 78 times in 2005. That year, she spent Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve with him, according to prison visitor logs.
Parakilas said all of the protective orders keeping the two apart were removed when DeMello was sent to prison.
Bodnar also visited DeMello 50 times in 2006. His mother visited him twice that year, according to the logs.
DeMello was granted a 16-day re-entry furlough by the parole board Oct. 11, 2006, and he was assigned to live with a friend, Davetta Curtis, according to Department of Correction records. That home was about 4 miles from where Bodnar lived.
Curtis declined to talk about DeMello, but she described Bodnar as "a good lady" who sometimes boarded her Siberian huskies at Curtis' dog kennel in Suffield.
"She was a good person. She had a garden, which she loved. And she loved her dogs," Curtis said. "How she ever got mixed up with [DeMello], I don't know."
Two weeks into his furlough, DeMello was found hiding in a makeshift cubby hole in Bodnar's home. Bodnar had placed a couch in front of the door to the cubby hole, according to a parole officer's report.
"The subject was extremely drunk and had admitted to `pounding vodka for a few days,"' DeMello's parole officer, Jeffrey Fernandes, said in his report. "Miss Bodnar had fresh bruises on her face but declined to comment on the origin of the bruises."
Fernandes described DeMello as "extremely unstable" and said he appeared to have no intention of abiding by the parole board's conditions.
"This officer believes that if the subject is [paroled again] he will in fact hurt someone," Fernandes wrote.
But on Jan. 8, 2007, the board granted DeMello another release -- this time on supervised parole. Under the conditions of his parole, he was to avoid contact with Bodnar and receive mental health treatment for domestic violence.
A little over a month into his release, he was again found at Bodnar's residence by his parole officer and returned to prison. Fernandes again reported fresh bruises on Bodnar's face.
In March, DeMello wrote a letter to the parole board, lamenting his return to prison.
"D.O.C. permitted us to see each other and be with each other at contact visits ... without any problems what-so-ever," he said. "Dept. of Parole is now part of the D.O.C. so why would I be stopped from being with my future wife after having contact with her for well over 2 years?"
In May, Bodnar also wrote a letter to the parole board, urging it to release DeMello again.
"I would like to start off by saying that I love Ronald DeMello dearly and plan to marry him," she wrote. "Getting to know Ronald over a period of time, I noticed him to be a kind, loving man, who cares about life, but would often speak of a very rough, abusive childhood, which caused him great pain to talk about."
The board decided in July to release DeMello on parole again, prohibiting him from contact with Bodnar. The decision was made primarily because DeMello was scheduled to finish his sentence Oct. 27, and the board wanted to give him a chance to make a transition into the community, parole officials said.
John Lahda, executive director of the parole board, said the board often paroles inmates who have violated the conditions of previous releases.
"These technical violations are designed to bring somebody back to prison, try to work with them on whatever the violation was and then try to get them out as quickly as possible," he said.
When he was found outside Bodnar's house Sept. 7, DeMello was returned to prison for violating the condition of his parole that he not contact Bodnar.
But he is still scheduled to be released Oct. 27. As that date creeps up, Suffield police are still trying to corroborate DeMello's claim that Bodnar died of an injury she received during a fall a few days before he was found outside her home. Police Chief Michael Manzi said Bodnar apparently bled to death after a piece of a broken rib cut into a vital organ.
The state autopsy report could take up to 12 more weeks, police Capt. David Bourque said. Without it, police can't peg exactly how or when Bodnar's injury occurred.
Bourque said police will file charges against DeMello in the case, but whether they will be murder charges is still in question.
"A murder charge must clearly state the intent to cause death on the person," he said, "and after 12 hours of interrogation, I don't think we have that."