JONESVILLE – Vernetta Cockerham-Ellerbee peeled back the curtain of her bedroom window and saw the man she once loved enough to marry. Hunched over in a field across the street, Richard Ellerbee toiled, shoveling clumps of dirt over his shoulder. She glanced past him to the nearby police station in this rural Piedmont town of 2,000. She spotted one of the department’s nine officers just beyond the station’s front door.Cockerham-Ellerbee rang the station: He’s back, she whispered. He was once again violating the judge’s order to stay away. Police didn’t catch Ellerbee that day. Cockerham-Ellerbee repeatedly reported her husband’s threats during the summer and fall of 2002. He never spent a night in jail.
She didn’t know what he was up to with the shovel until he called days later to explain: He was digging graves to bury her and the children.
Ellerbee delivered on his threat in November 2002. He broke into their home and fatally stabbed his teenage stepdaughter, Candice Cockerham. He left Cockerham-Ellerbee for dead, too, slicing open her neck with a shard of glass.
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