Husband Imprisoned Wife, Now He's in Jail

July 28, 2006 -- Polly Mitchell spent years imprisoned in her own home in Omaha, Neb., by the man who was supposed to love and cherish her -- her husband, David.

Polly said her life with David was a nightmare. He imprisoned her in their home, where he repeatedly beat and raped her, she said. Their life together is one of the worst cases of domestic violence ever to make headlines.

Polly met David when she was 17 years old, in 1993. She was working at the drive-through window of a Taco Bell. David drove up to the window and asked for her phone number. She gave it to him. "He was very attractive and very charming," Polly said.

Polly had never had a boyfriend before. Just three months after their first date, Polly said he hit her. Despite the abuse, Polly and David married and had four children together. The abuse continued for years until she couldn't take it any longer, because of what it was doing to her children.

‘He Told Me He Would Kill Me’

"I would just sit there with my babies and pray that the house wouldn't catch on fire because the doors were double-bolted and the windows were nailed shut," Polly said. "He told me he would kill me if I told anyone."

Polly didn't tell anyone, not even her mother.

David was accused of holding Polly in their home with doors locked from the outside and tin foil on the windows.

Finally, in 2004, David, 36, was sentenced in Douglas County District Court after he pleaded no contest to false imprisonment, terroristic threats and two counts of child abuse for terrorizing a mother in front of her children.

Polly said her children were forced to witness her being beaten daily by her husband.

"My oldest son would hide under the bed, and my daughter would try to get between us and my babies would just cry," she said.

Shelly Stratman, the county prosecutor, said David didn't have any sense that what he was doing was wrong.

"I really think that he believes that it was his right because it was his family and that was his wife. Every incident I think he could in his own mind justify," she said.

Family Escapes

After years of imprisonment, Polly finally called a local YWCA in June 2003. The battered wife said she could no longer let her children live in fear.

"My son started showing violent traits, and I didn't like that at all," she said. "And I knew that I wouldn't be able to do anything with my life."

After her conversation with workers at the YWCA, authorities helped Polly Mitchell and her four children escape through a window in their home.

David's attorney asked for probation, but the judge called Mitchell's actions despicable and gave him 14 to 20 years. He will be eligible for parole in 2011.

Polly said she didn't escape earlier because she was scared her husband would kill her, and she still loved him, despite the daily terror he put her through.

After Therapy

Today, Polly, 31, has gone through a lot of therapy, but she still said she loves David.

Psychologist Lauren Bennett Cattaneo explains why: ""It's part of her having been so focused on him for so long and having her whole sense of who she is and what the world is organized around him. ... And when you leave that situation physically, that doesn't mean that you've left it psychologically and emotionally."

But Polly said she has gained more self-confidence: "I understand I'm worth something, and back then I didn't think I was worth anything."

Polly said her main concern is for her children because family violence can be passed along from generation to generation. After all, David's behavior was an echo of the way his own father treated his mother. Ultimately, David's mother struck back, killing her husband with a shotgun blast.

Like Polly, all her kids are in therapy struggling with the demons of so many years of abuse. Ellie, now 11, was briefly hospitalized for severe depression. Buddy, now 9, is trying to overcome a violent temper.

"I'm at the stage where I'm really angry when I see my kids acting out or doing something that he may have done. It really, really makes me mad. I'm through the sad stage I think. And I'm at mad, and I haven't forgiven," Polly said.

Polly has been trying to get over the pain by telling her story, hoping to help others understand the horrors she's been through.

"I feel there's a lot of people out there who are in the same spot I was in and who feel helpless, and they don't know the way out. And I guess I've been given the voice to tell those people," Polly added.

Polly is also trying to rebuild her life. She has a new boyfriend and is about to begin her final year of nursing school. But most important, Polly is slowly getting herself ready for the day in just five short years when David comes up for parole.

Stratman worries that Polly will be in danger when that day comes.

"I don't think that you can have somebody who was so controlling and manipulative and made threats, the types of threats that he made, and not be afraid," the prosecutor said.

Polly's mother, Toni Slatten, worries about the prospect of David being paroled. "If he finds her, he'll kill her. ... She plans to face him. And it will come down to him or her."

But the Polly he faces won't be the Polly he beat and kept in a prison of fear. Polly said, "I don't feel like he has the mental hold over me like he used to. There's nothing that he could do or say that could hurt me because in my mind he's nothing."

The new Polly knows what she wants and knows who she is.