Bay Area family finds courage and strength to put abuser behind bars

Victoria Velasquez, the mother of four, tells KTVU, she had been with her abuser for 17 years.  He is her husband and the father of of their four children.

She says the abuse started a few years into their relationship. Velasquez says she's been silenced too long.
She's sharing her story to let other families suffering from domestic violence know there is hope and help.

There is a sense of calm, after much turbulence, for Velasquez and her children.  They now find solace in outings along the San Francisco waterfront. It is one step in their journey of healing.

When asked what her life is like now and what does she have now that she didn't have before, she replied, "I feel free.  I feel like I  have air to breathe." 

A Contra Costa County family endured a harrowing ordeal of domestic abuse that lasted for years.
    .        
Their resiliency and courage in surviving and helping to put their abuser behind bars received a special recognition from the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office.

By opening the boxes containing the weapons her husband Marco Martinez used against her, Velasquez is closing a painful chapter in her life.

"Sometimes,  the hard truth is necessary, much as it's easy to hide under the rug," says Velasquez. 

The 2 hand guns, rifle, machete and bat were evidence used to convict her husband of domestic abuse. The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office recently turned the items over to her.  
  
"I feel like getting them back.  I was taking my power back," says Velasquez. "This is the entrance to the ranch," says Velasquez as she showed KTVU the place in Oakley where her husband shot at her in front of their children.

She says she had never felt as powerless as she did on that day at the ranch. She says the bullet missed her by an inch.

"I  don't think I  ever felt that type of feeling in my body. I felt so hot and numb," says Velasquez.
 
That day was a turning point. It came in January 2015 after years of abuse. A stormy 17 year relationship that started when she was only 14 years old. 

Their oldest child Gabie says she was also abused by her father. "He would say tell me the truth or i'm going to hurt you. he had a gun to my head," says Gabie.

In another incident, Gabie says her father had a machete and threatened to cut off her fingers," I was scared.  I was telling him the truth but he didn't believe me."

The last straw for Gabie came that day when her father fired a shot at her mother at the ranch, accusing her of infidelity.

"I was tired of it. I couldn't take it anymore," says Gabie. 

She says they returned home and her father started beating her mother again. She asked her grandmother to call 911.

"I can hear him punching her.  I can hear....(makes punching noises) like this ...I  called 911," says Kathy Anderson, Gabie's maternal grandmother. .

That  day turned out to be the last time Martinez was a free man. It took a year and a half before he  went to trial. The trial lasted 3 weeks. Velasquez and her children testified.  The prosecutor says their ability to face their abuser in court was impressive.  

Gabie says she initially felt fear testifying against her father, but the desire to stop the hurt he caused her family gave her strength.

"He never looked at me when I was speaking.  He never said anything.  He didn't pay any attention to me," says Gabie.  She says her father's demeanor bothered her.

Prosecutor Nichelle Holmes says in domestic violence cases, it is often difficult to get the victims to press charges and  testify against their abuser, in this case, a husband and father.

"The one person that's supposed to protect you is the person that's abusing you so it was really hard to gain their trust," says Holmes.                             

Last fall, Martinez  was convicted of 27 counts and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

"I was so afraid until they actually read his sentencing," says Velasquez.

She says her children are concerned that their father will return one day and retaliate against them or send someone to hurt them.

"Their first question is how many years do we have left before he comes out. When will we have to move again?" says Velasquez.

Still, the family refused to allow those fears to stop their fight to free themselves of the abuse.

In April, The District Attorney's Office gave the family it's courage award, a recognition that had been given only to individuals in previous years.

"I've never seen a family come together and support each other in the way that this family did," says Holmes.  

An alternate juror was so impressed with the family that he befriended them after the trial.  

"It was a vicious cycle of violence that they had the strength to break by being brave enough to tell the story," says Wallace De Young, the alternate juror. 

Velasquez plans to share their story with other survivors of domestic violence through a non-profit, The Family Justice Center.

"There is hope and there is help and it's all in one place," says Dana Filkowski, Contra Costa County Supervising Deputy District Attorney. She is on the board of the nonprofit. Filkowski says the program is designed to help women trying to leave their abusers.

"Our family justice center that can connect them with law enforcement if that's what's necessary and counseling and other community resources," says Filkowski. 

The family's journey has had its ups and downs. Their emotions are conflicted.

 "There were moments when he loved them," says Velasquez," In my eyes we were a family.  I do think of him, but I don't miss him."

The family has moved to an undisclosed location. When asked if she still lives in fear, Velasquez replied, "Inside yeah. I can't help that part, not yet at least.  I know he's not here.  But I just can't get that fear to go away, not just yet."

Still, Velasquez and her children have found the courage to live life on their own terms. She tells KTVU she won't be keeping the weapons.

But  that she and her children  needed their time with them as they start over, looking into a future with limitless possibilities.

Their weapons now are courage, resilience and strength.
   

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