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Domestic Forgiveness: Extreme case raises questions for survivors

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"I believed as the older man, I was going to be the one that changed her."

Tom LaBrosse suffered traumatic brain injuries in 2017, after his ex-wife Shannon violently attacked him as he slept.

He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, and, at the time, had a torn rotator cuff. He couldn't fight back.

"When I met Shannon she was young and beautiful and certainly did not treat me like an MS patient," Tom told ABC21 News.

He sat down with us to share his journey to forgiveness.

But domestic violence experts worry, it's a sign that could mean the relationship isn't over.

Tom's Story

In 2005, Tom LaBrosse led a sales team for Kirby vacuums.

There, he hired Shannon. A budding romance began.

"Look, I was 41. Maybe we'll call that my midlife crisis to fall in love with a 28-year-old," Tom explained.

Twice divorced and with his MS symptoms worsening, Tom never anticipated falling in love again.

"I was smitten. And all the good sense I had went out the window."

But Shannon had a dangerous vice... a drug addiction, Tom told us. It was something that he says landed her in a jail cell time and again.

"In the three-and-a-half years I knew her before we married, she spent 2 of those years in prison."

Despite her rap sheet, they married in 2008.

"I always had fun with Shannon... when we dated, when we lived together, and when we married."

Their relationship soon turned sour, as shouting matches turned into shoves and punches. Fighting reached a fever pitch in 2011, when Shannon tried to bring home another man. She grabbed for a hammer during that fight... a move that sent her to prison.

"It was a fight that I got the worse of," Tom admitted, while noting that he fought back, "We were both wrong and we both should've got locked up. Because we both fought."

They divorced in early 2013. After Shannon served her sentence, she needed a place to stay. Tom welcomed her into his home once again.

"The reason I let her back after the divorce... basically the only one that ever helped her, and this is why people think I'm such an idiot, was me."

Their platonic relationship as roommates went well for nine months, until February 28, 2017.

At the time, Tom slept in a recliner.

"She gave me a kiss on the cheek and said goodnight. I said goodnight. And the next thing I know six hours later I'm waking up to this attack," Tom said. "I woke up to a plastic bag over my head."

Tom says Shannon tried to suffocate him with a grocery bag. When he poked a hole in it for air, she used his pillow. He fought back as hard as he physically could, breaking the chair he sat in. When Shannon's attempts to smother Tom failed, she reached for the closest weapon he could find.

"At that time I smoked, and I had a heavy glass jar that I would put my cigarette butts into. She grabbed that jar and began striking me in the face with it."

Court documents show Shannon whispered in Tom's ear these words: "It's okay, I got you. It's going to be okay I got you."

"Then I think she hit me with the hammer," Tom continued. "The next thing I remember was waking up because the police were banging on the door."

With traumatic head injuries, broken ribs and a finger, Tom's road to recovery began.

"When you get beat that bad, there's just a natural fear. I was having bad dreams," Tom told us. "I got to the nursing home where I'm supposed to be rehabbing which just means, 'Hey Tom, we're going to learn how to walk again, we're going to build up the muscles.' I was miserable."

He told us one night, he watched a movie called "The Shack." It was then that his perspective on life changed.

"The movie, basically the message was forgiving someone was for their benefit and not their's," Tom said. That's why he began to let his anger go, "That night in my prayers, I forgave her. The very next day I felt 100% better. The progress I made in physical therapy increased tenfold."

Shannon's Story

Shannon LaBrosse pleaded guilty to attempted murder and additional charges in March.

The week before her sentencing, ABC21 sent her a letter, requesting a statement or jail interview.

April 8, four days before her sentencing, Shannon responded with a letter of her own.

In it, Shannon attempts to explain the 2017 attack.

She cites a lifetime of sexual, mental, and physical abuse “starting at a very young age”.

Shannon says she never received any counseling, later turning to drugs.

She confesses in her letter, she doesn’t remember attacking Tom.

She apologizes saying in part, “He [Tom] and I have had a great and bad decade. We’ve been enablers to one another but he didn’t deserve what happened that day. It crushes my soul and there’s not a word that describes the remorse I feel. I’m terribly sorry for the pain I’ve caused him!”

Shannon requested ABC21 share her letter in whole.

She Also explains why she thinks her first lawyer didn’t properly represent her.

April 12, a judge sentenced Shannon to 30 years minus time served, the maximum penalty, and a no-contact order with Tom.

Tom LaBrosse told ABC21 he was disappointed with the maximum sentence, saying he was worried Shannon would not be rehabilitated.

In his victim impact statement, he also asked the judge for Shannon to serve a lighter sentence of 15-20 years.

The defense agreed, citing Shannon’s history with mental health and a traumatizing childhood.

But prosecutors pressed for the strict sentence, describing the case facts as “extremely aggravating”.

They also cited her criminal history of 18 misdemeanors and 11 felonies. Five previous counts were for battery.

When the court asked her for final statements, Shannon turned to Tom, who was in attendance, mouthing the words, “Tom, I’m sorry”.

Domestic Violence Against Men

After Shannon’s sentence, Tom told us, he wasn’t happy with the judge’s no-contact order, calling himself a constant in his ex-wife’s life.

We reached out to Philip W. Cook, author of Abuse Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence.

Cook believes Tom’s forgiveness, may actually be a sign, that he’s still stuck in the cycle of abuse.

“Obviously he’s still trapped in that relationship,” Cook says, “It’s going to take some time and therapy and counseling and its going to take some support for him to move on.”

Cook went in to detail about an uncommon topic he’s become an expert in: domestic abuse of men.

“There is a significant amount of underreporting by men, and also women.”

He says they’re often afraid to admit to police that their spouse is abusing them.

“They’re afraid to contact the police because they fear they’re the ones that are going to be in trouble.”

So why don’t they leave?

“The first answer is: ‘But I still love them’. Obviously, the price of love is too high when these type of things happen.”

Two talking points Cook brought up with us apply directly to Tom’s 2017 attack, when Shannon went after him in his sleep, and later with a hammer.

“Women use weapons more often to make up for that size and weight differential,” Cook says, “It’s not unusual for female perpetrators to use what we call ‘sneak attacks.’ Basically, while the man is asleep or drunk or incapacitated in some fashion.”

Cook says for men, the physical pain isn’t even the worse part of the abuse.

“You know the men I talked with say ‘yes, that hurt,' but what they constantly say, and women say the same thing: the emotional abuse took the greater toll on them”.

Tom’s concern for Shannon after her sentence was that she wouldn’t receive the mental support he says she needed.

Cook says jail only works with some individuals.

“You can’t reform a sociopath. It doesn’t happen. If you have mental issues it can be dealt with. If they’re sociopathic, there’s nothing that can be done. The only thing that works is jail.”

Lastly, Cook offers those who may be in abusive situations one piece of advise.

“My rule of thumb is: The first time, seek counseling. The second time, get out.”


Where can you find help in Fort Wayne?

We reached out to two organizations that work with victims of domestic abuse.

“Domestic Violence, or violence in general does not discriminate. It can happen to any of us”, Jessica Crozier, Director of the FWPD Victim Assistance program, says.

Her staff helps survivors of domestic abuse through the judicial system.

She says in her experience, emotions often cloud judgement.

“They love their abusers, because it wasn’t always bad times. There were good times,” Crozier explains.

She told us why she thinks domestic abuse against men remains so under-reported.

“I think society makes it a lot harder for men to come forward,” she says, “there are men if they felt safe and comfortable they’d come forward.”

WATCH: Crozier details what Victim Assistance does, and how you can get in touch.

The Center for Nonviolence works with survivors and abusers.

Senior Program Coordinator Elka Jackson says, “It’s important that men know that there is help and there is support for them.”

One of the challenges for victims is recognizing the differences between true forgiveness, and those still trapped in the cycle of abuse.

“It’s something that is seen over time, over an individuals choices, and actions - far more over their words,” Jackson explains, “It is a lifelong process for people, but it is possible.”

WATCH: Jackson details what the Center for Nonviolence offers, and how you can get in touch.

Domestic Forgiveness

Tom LaBrosse says his decision to forgive Shannon was one he made in faith, and to help him move on.

Besides expressing disappointment in the judge’s maximum sentence, he was upset with the no-contact order in April, hoping to keep Shannon updated on the birth of her new grandchild.

“It’s not unusual at all for a victim to have some sympathy for their abuser and want them to have help instead of jail,” Cook said. “The issue for men in particular relates to those family connections.”

Tom explained why he always stuck with Shannon through the good, and bad times. “You can’t help with who you love. You can keep yourself from getting there, but you gotta do it before hand, because once you’re there, there’s no going back.”

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out:

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