My daughter Judy burst into the living room breathless. ‘I’ll see you later Mum!’ she said.
My heart swelled with pride. Aged 15, Judy was beautiful, smart and caring. She always put others before herself and volunteered at a local care home in the Alzheimer’s unit.
When Judy became a young woman, we spoke every day and she continued to amaze me. She beat ovarian cancer twice and had two wonderful daughters, Kaylyn and Madison.
One day, they all came round for dinner and Judy’s eyes were sparkling. ‘Someone’s happy!’ I said. ‘I’ve met someone,’ she beamed. ‘His name’s Mike and I met him online. He’s definitely special!’
Judy had been single for five years and, after everything she’d been through, I was pleased. ‘You deserve to be happy,’ I smiled.
But time passed and Judy had bags under her eyes. ‘Mike’s being really possessive and controlling,’ she confided. ‘He even put a tracking device on my phone. ’‘You need to call the police,’ I told her. ‘I have but they can’t do anything,’ she said.
She told me she was going to cut Mike out of her life and I was happy.
But a couple of weeks later, I got a call from the hospital. ‘There’s been an accident and Judy’s been hurt,’ they said. ‘We’re going to put her on life support.’ I rushed straight there and was told Judy had been burnt.
When I saw her, my knees buckled. My beautiful girl was unrecognisable. Her thick, blonde hair was gone and her skin was red raw. ‘She has burns over 90 per cent of her body,’ a doctor explained.
‘I’m really sorry Bonnie, but your daughter won’t live for longer than seven hours – her injuries are just too severe.’ A guttural sob escaped my throat.
The next morning, police told me Mike had followed Judy to a petrol station. CCTV caught them having an argument, then Mike pouring two cans of petrol over her. When Judy was drenched from head to toe, he set her on fire with a cigarette lighter.
How could anyone do something so horrific? Judy had survived cancer. Now that monster had robbed her of the life she’d fought to keep.
‘Mummy has been hurt by a very bad man,’ I told her girls. ‘So you’ll stay with me until she’s better.’
I spent every day with Judy. Not waking up, she underwent 60 surgeries while asleep.
But then, seven months after her attack, a miracle happened. Judy came around. ‘My baby girl,’ I wept. ‘I love you Mum,’ she croaked.
For over a year, Judy struggled. She was in total agony and unable to walk.
Mike was convicted of aggravated arson and felonious assault and jailed for 11 years. But doctors told us Judy wouldn’t survive much longer. My girl was going to die.
Prosecutors began to plan for a murder trial and convinced a judge to allow her testimony to be taken to later be played in court.
Bravely, from her hospital bed, Judy was filmed as she gave evidence.
Six months later – 700 days after she was attacked – Judy died with me by her side. She was just 33.
Mike was charged with murder. He was due to stand trial, but because of my girl’s brave video, in July 2018, Michael Slager, 42, pleaded guilty to murdering my daughter, Judy Malinowski, in a plea bargain meaning he avoided the death penalty.
She became the first person in the United States to testify at their own murder case.
When the video was played to the court, I saw it for the first time. For nearly three hours, the prosecutor questioned Judy and she answered in a husky voice. I was in awe of her strength.
Michael was jailed for life without parole. It was exactly what Judy wanted. It’s tough, but Kaylyn, 15, Madison, 11, and I are pushing through. I’ve dedicated my life to raising them and they make me proud.
I’m telling Judy’s story to raise awareness of domestic violence. These monsters will never change. While I can’t bring back Judy, I want to help even one woman escape evil. Remember the red flags, and get out of that relationship. For my Judy.