Prison Love: Girl Falls Hard, Marries Tacoma Mall Shooter

Quynh Maldonado saw dangerous criminal on TV, then married him in jail.

BySusan Donaldson James
July 13, 2011, 2:08 PM

July 13, 2011— -- It was love at first sight for Quynh Maldonado, who watched her future husband -- known now as the Tacoma Mall shooter -- open fire on seven people, leaving one paralyzed, in a November 2005 hostage-taking in Washington state.

"There was just something about him when I saw him on TV," said Maldonado, who later married Dominick Maldonado in prison where he was serving a 163-year sentence. "I felt just right then and there that he is the one."

Now, in an exclusive interview with ABC's affiliate KOMO in Seattle, the 23-year-old said she has no regrets, even after another man was left dead this month in a daring prison escape planned by her husband.

When a reporter asked her if she was crazy, she could only reply, "No, but I'm just crazy in love with him."

Psychologists say that Quynh Maldonado is not necessarily mentally ill, and her "rescue fantasy" is quite common -- and not just among young women, but among those of all ages, including men and both homosexuals as well as heterosexuals.

"It is sort of crazy," said Ann Rosen Spector, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "You have to look at the reality TV shows and everyone wants to be famous or want to be a star or take themselves out of the ordinary."

"But the other thing to look at is the illusion of the rescue fantasy," said Spector. "She believes he is guilty or knows he is guilty and may believe she is the person who can save him."

"This is someone who is not very grounded in reality," she said. "It's like asking the women who dated O.J. [Simpson] after his [murder] trial if they were concerned. Yes, he was acquitted but weren't they worried about their own safety?"

Spector said people of all ages develop "huge crushes," especially if they have not had good luck with past relationships. They meet someone once and fantasize about "their whole future," she said.

That may have been the case with Quynh Maldonado, who was only 17 at the time of the mall shooting, a chaotic melee that lasted several hours and was shown on television.

Swarms of SWAT teams entered the mall as frightened families waited outside for their loved ones. Others, inside the mall, heard the sound of firing from two guns.

Dominick, now 25, was convicted of 15 crimes, including attempted murder, assault and kidnapping. The first 61 years of his sentence were imposed as a special sentence for gun crimes, which cannot be reduced for good behavior.

At the trial he argued that he was suffering from a mental disorder and could not be held accountable for the crime.

Soon after that, Quynh Maldonado began writing him at the Clallam Bay Prison, sending him topless photos of herself. "I just felt so madly in love with him," she said.

By spring 2007, the couple was married in a small wedding at the prison. Since then, their marriage has been confined to photos, telephone calls, letters and occasional face-to-face visits. Conjugal visits are banned for the first three years.

"I won't ever let go, not today, not any day, and like I promise -- I love him so much," she said.

Quynh Maldonado, who dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, has never been employed. She has never had any boyfriends and until she fell for her husband, she had only one other close relationship -- with her Siamese cat.

"I don't feel like Dom is taking its place," she said. "It is just that Dom is another love of my life, basically -- but in a human way."

Dominick Maldonado Attempts Escape

Just this month, Dominick Maldonado staged an prison break, holding scissors to a guard's throat while a fellow inmate broke through the prison door and security fences with a forklift. A guard was shot and killed.

"I guess from what I've heard he just wanted to see me," said Quynh Maldonado. "At the same time, if he did it for love then I guess I shouldn't really be that mad about it."

Now, her husband has been moved to maximum security at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen and may not get to see his wife for another year.

"It's sad, a very sad situation," said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, who has written 16 books on love and relationships.

She said women who look for relationships with inmates are more common than thought. "They usually don't have much going on that's good in their life," said Schwartz. "They need a fantasy escape from their life."

But the fantasy can have a dark side. "Oh my God there's so much danger," she said. "I mean, sometimes then the person gets a heroic picture of themselves, they try to help the person break out."

Psychologist Spector agrees: "People love fairy tales about the girl turning the guy around. They have illusions of the perfect love and people embroider their own fantasy and leave the facts out that don't fit in."

"I don't know what her relationship history is," she said. "Maybe he's better than nothing."

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