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Features & Columns

The fight to clear a Montana woman who killed her abusive Ex

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The fight to clear a Montana woman who killed her abusive Ex

2021-05-10 05:19:00

By K. Shalini

The woman on the phone that night was Rachel Bellesen, the 38-year-old coordinator at the nearby Abbie Shelter for domestic violence survivors. The shelter director, Hilary Shaw, described Bellesen as a "powerhouse" and a natural caretaker, one of her most talented shelter employees but also one of the quietest. Bellesen once sewed her mother-in-law a quilt out of her grandchildren’s old t-shirts, Shaw said. When a friend was having trouble conceiving, she volunteered to carry her twins.

Bellesen was also a survivor of domestic violence herself—the victim of a years-long cycle of physical abuse that propelled her toward the night in question, standing at a swimming hole outside Hot Springs, alone with her ex-husband and a Glock26 in her hands.

Shaw is one of several advocates now pressuring prosecutors to turn from tradition and clear Bellesen of her crime—completely.

“An injustice has been done,” Shaw told The Daily Beast in an interview last week. “A mistake has been made. And the right thing to do is to fully vindicate Rachel."

Bellesen did not have an easy upbringing. Growing up in Washington State, she lived with an alcoholic mother and a rotating cast of father figures—one of whom Bellesen says sexually abused her until she was 15. When she became pregnant by another man at age 16, her mother moved to Montana and refused to take her pregnant daughter with her. She says her mother told her: “We’re not taking pregnant kids to Montana.”

The man who impregnated Bellesen was Jacob Glace, a local drug dealer who lived down the street from her in Leavenworth, Washington. The day they met—when Glace came to her friend’s house to sell them weed—he was 23, and she was 15. The pair began dating quickly thereafter, and she was pregnant with her first child in less than a year. When her mom left for Montana, the now-homeless 16-year-old moved in with Glace. She had her second child one year later.

Bellesen says Glace was routinely abusive. In 2004, court records show, a neighbor called 911 to report that Glace had dragged Bellesen out of her apartment by her hair and thrown her to the ground. When police arrived, according to an incident report, they found Glace “extremely intoxicated” and the door to the apartment splintered. Bellesen told officers she was trying to separate from Glace but that he wouldn’t leave her alone. The officers documented redness on the left side of her face and scratches up her arm; she presented them with a tuft of hair she said he’d pulled out. Glace pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault and the couple divorced later that year.

Without Glace, who she says always controlled the couple’s finances and social life, Bellesen struggled to take care of two young children on her own. She grappled with alcoholism—a common response to domestic violence—and was briefly homeless. As a result, she lost custody of her two children. With nowhere else to turn, she says, she reached out to her mom, who offered to help her relocate to Montana. At age 21, she got on the train with nothing more than a backpack of belongings and settled in the small mountain town of Whitefish.

But Glace would not leave her alone. Although he had full custody, he let Bellesen take the children and came to Whitefish often to visit them. In 2009, he moved to Montana full time, to a tiny town an hour and a half south of where she lived. Bellesen said he continued to harass her from there, constantly threatening to take away the kids if she didn’t do what he wanted. She continued to struggle with alcoholism, and says she “basically lived day to day,” working entry level jobs and entering into even more unhealthy relationships with men.

By 2012, Bellesen says she was determined to turn her life around. She was working on staying sober and had enrolled in a college program to become a substance abuse counselor. That was also the year she met Corey Bellesen, her husband of nearly a decade, on Match.com. (They were married in December of that year, she said, “which many might think was rather fast, but he is my best friend and I can't imagine life without him.”) She started volunteering at the Abbie Shelter and quickly found herself drawn to working with other domestic violence survivors. The shelter hired her on full-time in 2018—the same year she completed her bachelor’s degree.

Though Bellesen was sober, stable, and in a job and relationship she loved, she says Glace continued to exert control over her life—mostly through their children. On the night of Oct. 8, according to her attorney, Bellesen agreed to meet with Glace outside of his home because of a threatening comment he had made about their son. She was hoping to smooth things over without anyone getting hurt, but when she arrived, she says, Glace attacked her and attempted to rape her, ripping her clothes and leaving scratches and bruises across her body.

In the heat of the moment, she says, it felt like the last 16 years had never happened; like she was a teengaer again, and he was finally going to kill her. She pulled out her handgun and shot him.

“I thank the universe every second that I am still alive today,” Bellesen said “None of this ever should have happened.”

There are no national statistics on how often women successfully cite self-defense in the murder of their abusive partners, but the numbers surrounding it paint a grim picture. Nearly 60 percent of people in women’s prisons have a history of physical or sexual abuse, according to the ACLU; as many as 90 percent of those incarcerated for killing a man say they were previously been abused by him. Feminist legal scholars argue that self-defense law is biased toward men, favoring cases of one-off attacks by strangers when most violence against women is perpetrated by someone they know.

 

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