Assault on an Angel
A Rape Victim’s Story of Survival and Strength
by Donna M. Carbone
“Mommy, help me. I’ve been raped.” Five years have passed since I heard those words, but time hasn’t numbed the pain they caused.
Saturday, June 30, 2007 was a perfect day for mother/daughter bonding. My daughter, Jessica, and I have always had a close relationship, and this beautiful Florida morning was the beginning to a day of pampering and shopping. Jessica’s apartment at Sanctuary Cove was within a stone’s throw of where her dad and I lived. She picked me up promptly at ten, her little sports car with its top down looking more inviting than a stretch limousine. Off we drove to Starbucks to start our gab fest over hot cups of caramel macchiato – our favorite. Before rushing off to our manicure and pedicure appointments, we chatted for a while at one of the patio tables, an umbrella sheltering us from the already hot sun. Later, sitting side by side at the salon, we continued the conversation that began in the car…talk of budding romance, vacations planned, friends and family. There was rarely a moment of silence…usually only while we clenched our teeth as our calloused skin was sandpapered away.
Once we were sure that the dreaded polish smudges could be avoided, we slipped into our sandals and drove to the mall. With nothing special in mind, we searched the shops for the perfect outfit for work or play. From store to store, we looked for that ever illusive “what a deal” blouse or skirt that would turn us from cinder girl to Cinderella.
In the dressing room at Victoria’s Secret, we tried on our selections and laughed over their sometimes unflattering effects. Our giggles were so loud, the sales staff knocked to inquire about our insanity. Jess could not resist taking a picture of me in a bathing suit with less than adequate coverage to show her dad when we got home.
By mid-afternoon, our stomachs were joining the conversation so to lunch we went. This was not the day to be weight conscience. Burgers and fries, and, of course, diet soda! Again, we laughed over the ridiculousness of choosing Diet Coke over a milk shake. How we enjoyed each bite! Hamburgers are a treat we indulge in only rarely so this lunch was extra special.
After a quick walk through the remaining department stores, Jess suggested we call it a day. We planned to meet again later in the evening for dinner with her dad and then go to a movie. That is exactly what we did. We decided to try a new hibachi restaurant and were delighted with the courteous staff and delicious food. On to the theater, and by the end of the evening, Jess and I agreed it had been one of the nicest days we had shared in a long time.
Dad did the driving, as dads will always do, so my husband and I said goodbye to our daughter at the front door to her apartment. It was 11:30 pm and many not well stifled yawns were evident on our faces. Mike and I fell asleep almost immediately upon returning home. At 5:30 a.m., my cell phone rang. Imagine, as I know you can, hearing your phone ring in the middle of the night.
Trouble is always your first thought, but nothing could have prepared me for the sound of my daughter’s voice crying, “Mommy, help me. I’ve been raped.” The air went out of the room. My heart stopped beating. My sleepy mind awakened with a jolt. I heard myself asking, “Where are you? Are you badly hurt? Have you called the police?” all the while motioning for my husband to hurry and get dressed. Trying to sound calm, I told Jess to “Stay on the line. Don’t hang up.” She was sobbing into the phone, “Be careful, mommy. He might still be outside. He has a machete!”
As I have already said, my husband, Mike, and I lived just three minutes from Jess’s apartment. Her pleas to “Be careful! Be careful!” followed us and felt like a knife in our hearts. As much as I anticipated the worst, nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my daughter’s bruised and beaten face. To this day, I have trouble verbalizing how I felt. “Dear God,” I thought, “The Elephant Man.” “She looks like the Elephant Man.”
Jess was crouching behind the door to her apartment, shaking uncontrollably, as we let ourselves in. In the darkened room, it was difficult, at first, to see her. With pretend calmness, her dad led her to the sofa and examined her face. A retired doctor, he quickly checked her for injuries and then told me to call the police. I immediately dialed 911 and explained what had happened.
There are no words to express the gratitude we all feel toward the North Palm Beach Police Department officers and paramedics who arrived so quickly. We could not have asked for kinder, gentler, more professional men than these. Our daughter is a strong young woman. As you will learn in this story, she is alive because she kept calm and followed her instincts. She was able to provide the police with so much information that formal identification was never an issue.
At approximately 2:30 a.m., Jessica was awakened by the sound of someone outside her door. Her little dog, Kneesaa, barked as keys were inserted into the lock. Only her dad and I have an extra set, so Jess assumed something had happened to one of us and the other was bearing bad news. Within seconds, a dark man was standing at her bedroom door, a machete in his hand. He had used a master key, easily accessible at the main office, to let himself in. Jess bolted from the bed but was thrown back, face down, and her hands zip tied behind her back. Although she pretended not to know who her assailant was, she immediately recognized him as the maintenance man who had repaired her air conditioner some three weeks earlier.
Telling this part of the story always fills me with rage. When Jess rented her apartment just five months prior, her dad asked the manager if he could install an extra inside lock, which Jess could engage when she was home. “Absolutely not,” he was told. Management must have complete access at all times. Like the law-abiding people we are, we obeyed. Do not, I beg you, do not allow some random person to govern how you protect yourself. In retrospect, I think what fools we were to have listened. What were they going to do -- evict her?
At the time her air conditioner was being repaired, Jess mentioned to us that she was uncomfortable with this man in the apartment. He had done nothing overt; they had not even had a conversation, but something in his demeanor had set off an alarm. Jess noticed a Blue Tooth in his ear as he worked on the AC. When it rang, it played the same rap tune over and over again. This song would later help to confirm his identity.
When her attacker entered, Jessica was sleeping in a tee shirt and a pair of underwear. He took a pair of shorts from her dresser and put them on her. He shoved a pillowcase in her mouth and dragged her, barefoot, her from the apartment, saying he needed money and he would take her to an ATM. For some reason, he chose to drive Jess’ sports car. As he pushed her into the passenger seat, Jess noticed that one zip tie had become loose. As soon as her attacker was behind the steering wheel, she spit out the pillowcase and bolted from the car; running, screaming across the parking lot. Nobody… not one single person came to her aid although later we were to learn that people had heard but chose to ignore her screams.
Bobby Broomfield, III, the perpetrator, tackled her into some bushes and dragged her behind one of the maintenance sheds. Jess is 5’10” tall and weighs about 125 pounds. Her attacker is 6’3” and weighted over 250 pounds. She tried to fight him, but he laughed at her and taunted her by saying, “You must have taken self-defense. It won’t do you any good.” During the struggle, his gloved hands pulled at her face, tearing her lips and mouth and causing damage that only a direct punch could have delivered. Eventually, he subdued her enough to re-zip tie her (he had a pocketful of them). This time he made them so tight that eventually they cut into her wrists causing permanent nerve damage. Rather than try driving Jess’ car again, the attacker used his own car. On the front console, Jess saw a Blue Tooth similar to the one the repairman had been wearing. Later, when his cell phone rang, it played the same rap tune. Jess also noticed what appeared to be a dry cleaning bag on the floor. That bag would later cause as much fear as the machete on the seat between them.
Jess mistakenly thought they would now go to the bank. Broomfield had other ideas. He took her to a vacant apartment and tried to gain access with a large ring of keys in his pocket. None worked. Back into the car, this time to another vacant apartment near the Intracoastal Waterway. As he pulled her out of the seat, he grabbed the plastic bag and asked if she could swim. Now, Jess feared he would throw her into the ocean with the bag over her head. Being a strong swimmer and a dive master, Jess began to plan her escape. She should be able to bring her legs through her arms, giving her the ability to rip off the plastic bag. Then she could kick herself to the surface and, hopefully, to shore. What she didn’t expect was to be brought inside the vacant apartment and raped. Later, she was able to describe to the police the construction lights set up in what she thought was the living room. When the apartment was located, during the investigation, her underwear and the plastic bag were still in the room.
Once through with her, Broomfield dressed Jessica and again put her into his car. He began to drive aimlessly from town to town, sometimes going back to the apartment complex parking lot, waiting in the car, and then leaving again. At some point, he noticed the damage to her face. At about the same time, Jess began to lose feeling in her arms. She started to panic, which upset her attacker. He panicked. From the trunk of his car, he took a wire cutter and tried to snip the zip ties. When that did not work, he tried the blade of a saw, which also did not work, but which cut into her wrists, leaving blood on her hands and the car seat. When the blade was eventually found, it had traces of Jessica’s blood on it. As a last resort, he drove to a gas station, where he bought scissors. Again, he told Jessica not to run or he would shoot her.
Broomfield started driving again, this time stopping at random banks, attempting to get money from the ATMs with her bank card. When he could not, he accused her of giving him the wrong pin number. No matter how many times she explained that her account was only with Bank of America, he kept going to other institutions. Each time he stopped, he told her he would shoot her if she tried to escape. She never saw a gun, but after what she had already experienced, a gun would be no surprise.
After exhaustive pleading, Jess finally convinced him to drive to a BOA and, there, he was able to get some money from her account. We learned, during the investigation, that not every bank has cameras on their ATM machines. Bank of America is among them in the location where the robbery took place. Another lesson learned the hard way. Luckily, the other banks Broomfield stopped at had cameras and he was caught on tape.
Eventually, they returned to the complex and her apartment. What I failed to say earlier was that Jess’ little dog had bitten the attacker when he first came into the bedroom. Since he was wearing gloves, her bite was meaningless. However, he grabbed the dog, wrapped her in a sheet and left the room, machete in hand. All through the ordeal, Jess assumed that Kneesaa was dead. The only bright spot upon her return to the apartment was to see Kneesaa quivering under the living room sofa.
Once inside, Jess, again thinking ahead, offered him a bottle of beer. During the night Broomfield talked on and on about himself and his family. He told Jess that his favorite beer was Sam Adams, the same kind she had in the refrigerator. On the pretext of being thirsty, she asked if she could get a drink of water and offered him a beer hoping, if he did drink it, his DNA would be on the bottle. He refused, began molesting her in the kitchen where they stood and, eventually, pushed her back into the bedroom where he raped her twice more.
Details are important. During the course of the night, Broomfield would often bang his head on the steering wheel and state that he had to kill Jessica because she knew who he was. Jessica was adamant that she had not looked at him and did not recognize his voice. When he asked why she did not look at him, she said she did not want to know who he was. It took some time, but eventually she must have convinced him that she truly did not recognize him. Over the three plus hours they were together, Broomfield grew comfortable talking to Jessica. He told her many, many details about his life that only a close personal friend would know. He even programmed her cell phone number into his phone. He showed her pictures of his children and talked about how he was their sole support. One minute he would be convinced that he had to kill her, and the next, he was planning to return the money he had stolen on a weekly basis, leaving $100.00 on her doorstep each Friday. He asked what her plans were for the rest of her day. She said she and I were going to the beach, and he asked to join us. Then, again, he would bang his head on the steering wheel and say he had to kill her.
The teeter tooter of life and death plagued Jessica all those hours. “Please, God, if he is going to kill me, let it be fast. Please, don’t make me suffer any more than I already have.” Jess was silently begging for mercy the only way she could.
When Broomfield had finally abused her enough, he insisted she take a shower. He sat on the lid of the toilet, machete in hand, and made sure she washed thoroughly. At a loss for what to do now, he began again to say he needed to kill her. Jess, keeping her wits about her, talked about his children and how much they needed him. “Who,” she asked, “will care for them if you kill me and go to jail for life. They need you.” The attacker kept saying that he would go to jail anyway because she would call the police. Again, Jess stayed calm and told him she only wanted the night to be over. No calls to the police. For whatever reason, he asked, “So, we good?” “Yes,” she assured him, “we are good.” And he was gone. She locked the door and called me.
The investigation and the trial took two years to complete -- two years to relive daily, publicly and privately, the horrors of July 1, 2007. Two years during which emotional scabs would form and be picked away over and over again.
The hours that followed were almost as horrific as the ordeal itself -- the verbal reliving of the event to the police officers first on the scene and the retelling again to the detective assigned to the case. If you think a visit to the gynecologist is embarrassing, try having a rape kit done. Doctors, nurses, victim’s advocates… all there for your benefit but none the less invading your privacy.
The female detective assigned to Jessica’s case has our undying gratitude. Detective Stephanie Joyce (now Lieutenant Joyce) is an amazing woman and the most professional member of any police force I have ever met. From the moment she arrived at the hospital, she took control, protecting Jessica from everyone not directly involved in her care. She was even stern with the emergency room doctor, who overstepped his responsibilities.
The victim’s advocates were and are an incredible group of women. The first one to the hospital brought clean clothes and underwear, a toothbrush and other necessities to make her comfortable. She remained until relieved by her successor, who stayed with Jessica throughout questioning at police headquarters and during the traumatic face-to-face identification of her attacker.
Two of the three police officers, who first responded to the 911 call, lived in the same apartment complex as where the assault took place. One of them lived just five doors away from Jessica. These men took the case very personally. As Jessica was certain she knew who her attacker was, they promised they would have him behind bars before the night was over. They kept their word.
Our criminal justice system moves at a tedious and frustrating pace. Motions and more motions were filed; postponement after postponement became the norm. Our hopes for a speedy trial were constantly being raised and then dashed. Broomfield’s family hired a private attorney, who eventually left the case. He then went through a series of five public defenders. Each time, the trial date was set back months. Plea deals were offered and rejected, which, on some level, pleased Jessica. She never wanted to allow Broomfield to get away easily. As difficult as it would be to relive that night at a trial in front of a courtroom full of strangers, Jess was willing to endure it. She wanted other women to know that there is no shame in being raped. “Come forward,” she wanted to yell. “Stand proud. Hold your head up!” That is exactly what she did.
The trial, which was supposed to take no more than three days, lasted two weeks. The court system is not a well-oiled machine. Delays are a constant. The outstanding case presented by Barbara Burns, the Assistant State Attorney, the evidence collected by the crime scene unit and the testimony of the police officers and detectives assigned to the investigation were beyond reproach. Combined with Broomfield’s own condemning statement at his time of arrest, the state’s case was more than strong. However, no matter how confident we were, the outcome depended on six strangers who sat and listened, showing no emotion, during the long hours court was in session. Three men and three women - different in every way… what were they thinking?
The final morning of trial was tense for everyone. Jessica’s friends and our family had been present every day. Numerous members of the police department, even those not directly assigned to the case, showed their support by their presence in the courtroom. When both sides rested their case, the judge, another amazing woman, released the jury for deliberation. The rest of us went to lunch but no one ate. We wandered the streets around the courthouse… walking and waiting.
In less than two hours, we were summoned back to court. The jury had reached a verdict. Broomfield had been charged with three counts of sexual battery with a weapon, kidnapping with bodily harm, burglary, robbery with a weapon and larceny. He was convicted of three counts of armed sexual battery, one count of burglary while armed, one count of false imprisonment, one count of robbery and one count of trespass. We felt no sense of victory. There is no victory when so many lives are destroyed.
The prosecutor assured us that conviction on just one of the armed sexual battery charges carried a mandatory life sentence. We left the courthouse happy that this predator would never strike again. As I said earlier, the criminal justice system is not a well-oiled machine. What is the law one day can easily change the next. By the time of sentencing, ninety days later, the mandatory sentence was no longer in effect. Now, we were dependent upon the judge to determine what a fair punishment would be.
As is common at a sentencing hearing, family and friends from both sides are asked to make a statement, which the judge listens to politely. Having heard all the testimony, I am sure that Judge Smith had already reached a decision before her gavel struck court in session.
Regardless, Jessica and I, the designated speakers, were determined to plead our case. Jessica, knowing she would not be able to control her emotions, wrote the following letter, which she read in court.
Dear Judge Smith:
For as long as I can remember, July has always been one of my favorite months. The fourth was not just a day to celebrate our country’s birthday; it was the day our family gathered to celebrate our love and kinship. Red, white and blue signified patriotism and loyalty not blood and bruises. Now, July is the month I celebrate being alive.
Judge Smith, having presided over this case, I know you are well familiar with the facts of my kidnapping and rape at the hands of Bobby Broomfield, III. What I would like to do in this letter is tell you about the changes in my life since the attack.
I no longer live alone. I want to but am terrified that, no matter how many locks are on my door, someone will break in. At 29, I should have my own home – a place to put my feet up at the end of the workday, to entertain friends, to give myself a facial in privacy if that is what I want to do. Instead, I have reverted to being a child, living with my parents, calling my father to meet me in the driveway so I don’t have to walk to the front door in the dark, begging my parents not to stay out too late because I don’t want to be in the house by myself. Dreading the nightmares that plague my sleep, I have barely closed my eyes for two years. Yes, I could take sleeping pills, but then I might become dependent and complicate an already complicated life. Therapy helps for a few hours, sometimes for a day or so. I have attended sessions once a week since the attack, but when darkness sets in, I am once again alone and fearing for my life. I want to stop shaking! I want not to be afraid! I want not to crawl out of my skin every time a dog barks or a tree branch hits the window!
Relationships are so difficult. You need trust to even begin the process of dating. I don’t trust. I am no longer tolerant of human failings. If a man doesn’t meet my expectations – and only a saint could – he doesn’t get a second chance. I want a family. My parents would like grandchildren. Neither is going to happen when everyone I meet is found lacking because of my trust issues. I fear never finding anyone who will understand that my tough exterior is a façade… a barrier set up to protect myself. I am incapable of letting it down and allowing someone else in. I don’t like who I have become but am unable to change.
Only those closest to me – my mom and dad, my brother, my relatives and friends – know that the smile on my face each day is part of my makeup. Apply lipstick. Smile. It’s hard work to pretend to be happy but, as kind as most people are, they really don’t want to be burdened with my sorrow. As a result, I’ve never really grieved for the loss of innocence, security, trust and independence. Grieving is weak. I’m afraid to be weak.
For a few days, immediately after Mr. Broomfield was convicted, I began to see a ray of hope. Why? Because I mistakenly believed that some of the charges carried a mandatory life sentence. Now I know that the length of time he serves rests with you.
I don’t want to be vindictive, but I do want justice. There will never be a day that I do not remember what happened. I will always see the machete pressed up against my cheek. I will always feel the zip ties pulled tight around my wrists. I will always taste my blood in my mouth. I will eventually require surgery for my injuries... more scars to deal with. I will be a prisoner of these events for the rest of my life. Mr. Broomfield should be a prisoner for just as long.
Judge Smith, I ask you to please sentence Bobby Broomfield, III to the maximum allowable under the law. I beg you to send a message to other predators that abuses such as these will not be tolerated in our society.
When my turn came, I spoke directly to Judge Smith saying, “When Jessica was attacked, my son asked me how God could allow one of his angels to be hurt so badly. Jessica is as close to an angel on this earth as you will find. She is a sweet, kind, caring young woman with a warm and giving nature. Prior to the attack, she always had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes. Now, the smile is most often replaced by a look of puzzlement and the twinkle, well, it faded, along with her smile, on that Sunday morning. Mr. Broomfield did not just kidnap and rape Jessica. He took a part of her soul. He stole freedom and independence. He stole trust and the dream of happy ever after. Jessica suffered injuries that will eventually require surgery. There is no surgery to repair the damage to her mental and emotional state.
Just five months prior to the attack, Jessica moved into her apartment, the apartment Mr. Broomfield broke in to. She was so excited to have a place of her own to decorate and to entertain friends. Together we shopped for furniture and planned menus. We had so much fun.
Now Jessica lives with her father and me and although we are there all the time, at night she locks her bedroom door – not for privacy, for protection. In the morning, it breaks my heart to see the dark circles under her eyes and the haggard look on her face. She has barely slept in two years.
To the court, this case is a sexual assault but to our family it is a homicide. Mr. Broomfield effectively used the machete he carried to take away a part of Jessica’s life. She is no longer the daughter we knew, and I doubt that time will give her back to us. If Jessica has to suffer pain for the rest of her life, then Mr. Broomfield should have to pay with the rest of his life. He should not be allowed an opportunity to victimize other women.
Emily Bronte wrote, “I have dreamed in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after and have changed my ideas. They have gone through and through me… and altered the color of my mind.” Jessica’s dreams are nightmares that affect every aspect of her life. They have not only altered her perception. They have changed the very essence of who she is. Judge Smith, my husband and I would like very much to have our daughter back, and only you can give her to us by guaranteeing that Bobby Broomfield, III will never hurt her or any other woman again.”
Perhaps, Judge Smith really did listen. She sentenced Broomfield to life in prison without parole. I wish I could say that justice being served worked a miracle and all the pain and suffering of the past two years went away. That didn’t happen, but the healing process has begun. Jessica no longer constantly looks over our shoulder in fear. She has begun to smile real smiles once again. She is dating… and beginning to trust.
Jessica’s story is filled with women of strong character. Starting with Jessica, herself, they include Lieutenant Stephanie Joyce of the North Palm Beach Police Department; Liisa Spinello and Deliah Roman, the victim’s advocates who befriended and supported her; Randee Speciale, the therapist who saw her through the darkest days; Barbara Burns, the awe-inspiring Assistant State’s Attorney and the amazing Judge Amy Smith. At her side always were her good friends, Mary Bain and Carin Muley. With these women to look up to, how can we not stand tall and proud.
On her wrist, over the deepest scar left by the zip ties, Jessica has a teal blue ribbon tattoo. If you ask her why, she’ll tell you, “If I have to remember what happened for the rest of my life, I want to remember that I survived.”