Oct. 2, 2008 -- A decade and a half after shooting her abusive husband in the head, Cassandra Johnson seemed to have finally found peace in her life with a steady job, a growing family and a renewed sense of confidence.
Until her next husband allegedly turned on her.
Randy Lipkins, the father of Johnson's first child and a man she trusted to protect her, killed her earlier his month, according to Miami-Dade police, allegedly stabbing her 22 times and smashing her face with a hammer, leaving the body to rot in his apartment for four days.
Lipkins, 49, who was charged with second-degree murder with a deadly weapon, is due to be arraigned Friday.
"I totally thought Cassandra was going to make it," Edith Georgi, the public defender who helped Johnson escape a murder charge in the shooting of her first husband, told ABCNews.com.
"The last time I saw her, she was doing great, settling down, getting her confidence back. She was without a backbone when I met her and she had all the classic symptoms of battered women."
That was in 1993, when Johnson was arrested for finally turning on John Harris, a mechanic who regularly beat her, threatened her with a gun, stalked her for two years after they split up, and even claimed to have made a pact with the devil, according to court documents and testimony in her trial.
"He was a small person in stature and he was intimidated by her -- Cassandra was a big woman -- and he wanted to let her know who was boss, so he would bully her," remembers Georgia Ayers, a social worker who knew Johnson for more than 25 years.
Ayers claimed Harris followed Johnson and her when the couple was estranged, threatening Johnson.
"He pulled up behind me and bumped my car, driving beside me, yelling, 'Put her out, put her out,'" Ayers said. "But I kept driving until I saw a police car and I blew the horn to attract their attention. And he turned around and drove away. ... He was so mean and vengeful."
On March 9, 1993, when Harris threatened Johnson and her son at a shopping center, she pulled a gun and shot him in the head, and he died three days later.
Though initially charged with second-degree murder, Georgi negotiated a plea down to probation on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, along with counseling with Ayers' organization, Alternative Programs.
Through a difficult recovery, Ayers helped raise Johnson's twins, Jeremiah and Neremiah, while Johnson received counseling and got jobs at a local bagel shop and as a housekeeper at a luxury condo development.
"She was bothered for many years -- what happened with her first husband really took an effect on her -- but she seemed to be overcoming her past," said Ayers.
Johnson soon married Lipkins, a longtime friend who had fathered her first son. Though he had his own problems -- Lipkins reportedly has a history of domestic abuse and has been arrested for cocaine possession, according to court records examined by the Miami Herald -- she trusted him, said Georgi.
"Randy was kind of her protector back then and she seemed to be doing well in recent years," she said.
But Ayers said Johnson would sometimes tell her about getting into fights with Lipkins, recalling that Johnson said she once shot at her second husband after a particularly bitter argument.
When Johnson didn't show up for her housekeeping job, her sons Omar and Neremiah stopped by her apartment, smelled something rotten and called the police, who discovered the decomposing corpse, according to the Herald.
The next day, Lipkins, who was injured in the leg, turned himself in, telling police that Cassandra "stabbed [him] in the left shin with a knife ... then hit [him] with a hammer, before retreating and barricading herself inside the bathroom," where he eventually beat her with a hammer "until she was unresponsive," according to a police report.
Lipkin's public defender, Joseph George Jr., did not return calls for comment.
"She was a sweet person and she was laid-back, but she had a lot of problems with men; they just took advantage of her," said Ayers. "It's such a sad story. She was trying to build a life and it kept falling apart."