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A Closer Look
Battered women form support group behind bars

Story:Reclaiming the Past

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   The legal system is supposed to protect victims, but in abuse cases it’s often the wrong ones.  Until recently, evidence of abuse could harm women’s chances in court.  Greenberg hid Turner’s abuse at first because she thought it would provide a motive for the killing.  She didn’t even tell her lawyers.  Knowing that she faced life in prison without parole, they advised her to take a 25-to-life deal. She took it.


A Lifetime of Abuse

      Greenberg’s life fits a familiar pattern.  “Almost all of these women have a history of abuse,” said Michael Brennan, USC law professor and co-director of the school’s Post-Conviction Justice Project. “The reason they are in abusive relationships is that they grew up being abused. When they were younger, it tended to be sexual abuse.”

        Soon after she was born in 1967, Greenberg was adopted into the Atlanta family of Irving and Beverly Greenberg.  When she was six and playing hide-and-go seek, a teenage neighbor named Gary invited her to hide in his house. She went in. He told her to take her clothes off.  “And he, like, held me down and he covered my mouth, and he, you know, told me not to scream or anything” she said in court. “He ended up making me perform oral sex on him.  He told me if I told [my parents] they wouldn’t love me. I felt because I had been adopted, my parents would give me back,” she said.  After that he often came to baby sit.  “I would see him and pee in my pants.”

        Four years of Gary’s neighborliness ended when the Greenbergs moved to Charlotte, N.C.  By then, she was an easy mark. “Victimization like that which she endured with no intervention often socializes a child into accepting abusive treatment,” wrote Nancy Kaser-Boyd, the domestic violence expert who testified for Greenberg in court, in her report. “Their damaged sense of self is often apparent to predators.”

        The predators came.  They were older, powerful and looking for sex.  In high school, the manager of the movie theatre where Greenberg worked said, “‘I’ll give you $20 if you pull your top up.’ I didn’t want to but I didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ I was still a virgin.  He was sicko, but he was my boss.”

       He introduced Greenberg to an escort service manager.  She began going on “dates” and getting high.  She got pregnant by a boyfriend and had an abortion after he left her.  “My whole life fell apart after that,” she told Kaser-Boyd. “I felt like I was doing the same thing as my mother, abandoning my baby.”  Her drug intake went up and her relationship with her parents deteriorated.

       In 1996, after Greenberg’s father heard her setting up a date on the phone, he told her to get help or get out.  “I left that very second,” she said.  “My dad was in there crying and I just left because I couldn’t handle it.”  It was at least her third time running away, but this time she would not return home to live for 19 years.

      Greenberg went hitchhiking in search for her real mother and found truckers.  At a truck stop, one guy scared her so much she ran to another and begged him to take her away, anywhere. His name was Billy.  They went to Chicago, where they lived an intoxicated haze.  Billy was a “really nice guy” who didn’t demand sex.  He took her to Memphis to meet a man who he said could help her kick drugs. 

     There, at 19 years old, Susan Greenberg’s life merged with death.


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