By Ananda Shorey
BALTIMORE – Shaune Tilghman came face to face Friday with James Ray, the man who she said menaced her with a butcher knife last year and who is now serving a prison sentence for abusing her.
Tilghman said the thought of seeing Ray made her sick all week, and she clutched her stomach with her long green fingernails as she entered the Maryland Transition Center in Baltimore to attend his parole hearing.
“I am terrified of this man,” said Tilghman, 25. “The only reason I am going is that I don’t want the panel to think I want him to get out so we can be together.”
The chairwoman of the Maryland Parole Commission said it is time for women like Tilghman to fight back. Patricia Cushwa said it is time people listen to these women because “people have never taken domestic violence serious enough.
“These people feel they are trapped within their own walls,” she said about victims of domestic violence.
Cushwa said that open parole hearings in domestic violence cases are relatively new — Friday’s was the first at the Maryland Transition Center. But, she said, open hearings are important because abusers need to know that society is going to start holding them accountable for their actions.
“I think abusers are not accustomed to being scrutinized,” Cushwa said. “If you beat up your wife or your family, you think that no one should know about it. Denial is at the front of this.”
If Ray was intimidated Friday, he didn’t show it.
As Tilghman entered the compact hearing room and sat only feet from Ray, who is the father of her 9-month-old child, her face went blank as he glared at her through the pane of glass separating them.
Tilghman said she expected he would try to intimidate her at the hearing and she expects he will blame her for the outcome of the hearing. She declined an opportunity to speak at the hearing and Ray only spoke to answer questions asked of him by the parole board.
Tilghman said that during their relationship last year, Ray attacked her three times — in January, May and October. She said that the first time he put his hands on her she was three months pregnant, and that when she was seven months pregnant he threatened her with a butcher knife.
Ray, who turns 30 on Saturday, was convicted of assault and sentenced to five years in prison, but four years of his term were suspended. He is scheduled to be released on parole June 12.
His request for parole Friday was denied after a 10-minute hearing Friday, but Ray seemed neither surprised nor disturbed by the decision.
As Tom Pennewell, the hearing officer for the parole commission, read the decision, Ray yawned and tapped his fingers on his corn-rowed head.
Ray’s mother, Brenda Williams, who showed up after the hearing, said that she believes her son needs help.
“I just hope he can get help for his drug addiction and anger,” Williams said. “Because he is a really sweet boy, but if he gets angry…”
Even though Tilghman went out of her way to be at his parole hearing, she said she wants to have nothing else to do with him.
“I am never, ever going to keep her (daughter) away from him, but I don’t want to be with him,” she said. “I wish that he would leave me alone.”