Former Deputy White House Counsel’s Ex-Wife Recalls Flashlight Attack That Nearly Killed Her

Mary Margaret Farren suffered brain damage and is working through PTSD.

ByANDREW PAPARELLA, CAILA KLAISS and ALEXA VALIENTE
February 5, 2015, 12:38 PM

— -- intro: Mary Margaret Farren thought she was going to die during the brutal 2010 bludgeoning by her then-husband J. Michael Farren, a former deputy White House counsel under President George W. Bush.

“I felt like my head was just mush inside, and I thought, ‘I’m dying,’” Margaret, now 49, told ABC News’ Amy Robach. “And then I was thinking, ‘I've got to hold it together. I have to stay conscious so I can save the girls.'"

On Jan. 4, 2010, Mary Margaret served Michael with divorce papers. Two days later, Michael viciously attacked his wife at their New Canaan, Connecticut, mansion and beat her with a flashlight, while their two daughters, a baby and a 7-year-old, slept just down the hall.

WATCH: A Survivors' Story: Mary Margaret Farren's First TV Interview

“The wounds didn't heal for a long time. The impact was so severe that I completely lost my sense of smell,” Mary Margaret said.

Michael, now 62, is currently serving a 15-year sentence in prison after a jury found him guilty of attempted murder, first degree assault and risk of injury to a child in 2014. The judge ordered that he never again have contact with his two daughters. On Dec. 17, 2013, a jury also ordered Michael to pay Mary Margaret $28.6 million after she sued him for assault and battery and infliction of emotional distress.

Help and information for victims of domestic violence is available 24/7 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1.800.799.SAFE or visiting their website HERE.

For more resources on ways to stop domestic violence among teens and women, click HERE.

quicklist:1title: Mary Margaret Meets Michael in 1994text: Mary Margaret, an accomplished attorney herself, said that dating Michael was “amazing” after she first met the attorney, who was 13 years her senior, in 1994. But she said their relationship would have its scary moments.

“Out of the blue, he would just go into this rage that – jealousy – saying I had spoken too long to someone at a cocktail party, and he got angry with me,” Mary Margaret recalled.

Things later seemed to get better, but Mary Margaret realized it was because she began altering her behavior.

“I didn't go out with girlfriends. I made sure that I was reachable at all times. I never stood too close to anyone at a cocktail party,” she said. “I made sure I was attentive to him. And, so, you become so well behaved in his eyes."

Even after they married, she said her husband, who worked as chief legal advisor at Xerox and Under Secretary at the Commerce Department, tried to isolate her from her family by banning them from their home. After his career at Xerox and in Washington D.C. ended, Mary Margaret hoped that their move to Connecticut might make Michael happier and calmer, but she said it became much worse.

“It was like a year of terror,” she said.media:28727703

quicklist:2title: He Is Served with Divorce Papers on Jan. 4, 2010text: Twelve years into their marriage, Mary Margaret said she noticed her eldest daughter would go out of her way to avoid her father’s rage, and she said she knew she had to leave.

“I thought, you know, ‘Here I am, an adult who's made this choice, and here's my daughter,’” Mary Margaret said. “Whether you have sons or daughters, what kind of example is it for them?”

Mary Margaret made sure she and her daughters were not home when Michael was served with the divorce papers. She returned to their home in Connecticut when she said he asked her to return to discuss the divorce, but decided to leave her keys in her car.

“I thought he would fly into a rage, and I did not want to have the children there during that, if that happened. And I wanted to be able to leave quickly,” Mary Margaret explained. “And when I pulled into the garage that day, I left the keys in the center console of the car.”media:28724551

quicklist:3title:The Night of the Attack on Jan. 6, 2010text:After spending the next two days trying to talk her out of the divorce, on the night of Jan. 6, 2010, Mary Margaret said Michael tackled and then began strangling her in their bedroom. She said he also punched her, ripped out her hair and hit her at least ten times in the face with a heavy metal flashlight.

“It was so painful, and at first I screamed out, and then I stopped because I immediately realized that our eldest daughter was sleeping so close to where we were,” Mary Margaret recalled. “I didn't want her to come into the room. And as he was slamming my head into the floor, he said, ‘I'm killing you.’”

Eventually, she said Michael took a break, and Mary Margaret hit a panic alarm on the wall. But she said he attacked her again.

“And by the grace of God, or angels, I just popped up, and I ran to our daughter's room, and I said, ‘To the car, right now. Daddy's trying to kill me,’” Mary Margaret said.

Mary Margaret, nearly blinded by blood, said she took her two daughters, got in her car and sped away from their mansion. Fighting unconsciousness, she swerved into the first house with lights on, where she ended up at the front door of John and Barbara Achenbaum.media:28728902

quicklist:4title: Jury Awards Mary Margaret in Civil Trial on Dec. 17, 2013text: She spent six days in the hospital and suffered a broken jaw, fractures on her cheeks and forehead, and lacerations and wounds on her head. She also had brain damage and is working through post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michael was quickly arrested and charged, but was soon out of jail on a $750,000 bond. Nearly five years passed before he faced justice. During that time, Mary Margaret divorced him and lived in hiding with her children.

“He was able, because of his knowledge, and his intelligence, and his understanding of the legal system, [to] just pull one move after another to delay things. It was excruciating,” she said.

Even when Mary Margaret sued her ex-husband, who chose to represent himself, he claimed he had been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment and was not present in court for the duration of the trial. And while she was awarded $28.6 million, her attorney said she will only collect a fraction of that.media:28725634

quicklist:5title: Michael's Criminal Trial Begins in July 2014text: After filing motions asking for more time to prepare his case, Michael’s criminal trial finally began in July 2014. At first, he said he would again represent himself, but then asked for free lawyers. He then rejected the court-appointed attorneys, refusing to cooperate or even speak to them as they prepared their defense.

In one final maneuver, Michael told the judge he was suicidal, and the judge allowed him to stay home during the trial.

In his closing arguments, one of Michael's lawyers Timothy Moynahan addressed the jury, saying, "Without warning, he gets served with divorce papers. For a man of pride, that’s going to cause a terrible adverse reaction. It might be anger. It might be a combination of things. It might be depression, but it’s a revolting turn of events to say the least."

"I think the intensity of Mr. Farren’s terrible, not understandable, inexplicable overreaction is based in his character and in his nature, and when that rigid logic snapped, so did he," Moynahan continued. "I say he didn't intend to do it."

Michael was present the day the jury found him guilty.

“I collapsed and cried,” Mary Margaret said. “It was such a relief.”

Michael is appealing the criminal conviction and the $28.6 million civil court judgment against him. The judge ordered that he be held without bond until his appeal.media:21253789

quicklist:6title: A Final Legal Battletext: In one last legal battle, Mary Margaret is currently taking steps to change her and her daughters’ last name. While she said her ex-husband has never apologized, Mary Margaret and her daughters are slowly moving on. She is now sharing her story to sound a warning for other women feeling trapped in their relationships.

“I think when the severity of abuse gets to where I ended with, most women in that situation never get to speak out because they're dead,” she said.

“But I felt it was just critical to enter the conversation to speak out and to caution women in terms of getting involved with someone who shows these abusive tendencies.”

Help and information for victims of domestic violence is available 24/7 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1.800.799.SAFE or visiting their website HERE.

For more resources on ways to stop domestic violence among teens and women, click HERE.

media:28723662

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