With her husband locked away serving a three-year sentence for rape, Mary Ruth Marsh was able to find the courage to start a new life, free of abuse.
But an icy patch on a fogged-in Carroll County road quickly detoured her new journey.
When Mrs. Marsh lost control of her car and slammed into a telephone pole near Winfield last week, her two children were thrown from their seats.
Her 2-year-old son was injured; her 4-year-old daughter was killed.
Though she didn't realize it until yesterday, Mrs. Marsh's desire to give Guy Gordon Marsh Jr. one last chance to see their daughter, Sonia, provided him a ticket out of prison.
Marsh, 47, won't be returning to the Roxbury Correctional Institute in Hagerstown. Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. signed an order Saturday giving Marsh permission to visit his daughter's casket at a Westminster funeral home and permitting the convicted rapist to serve the rest of his sentence on work release at the Carroll County Detention Center.
Judge Burns said Mrs. Marsh's request for her estranged husband to be allowed see the child's body prompted his ruling on Marsh's three-month-old sentence reduction request.
"I've been so scared that he was going to hurt me, that I finally decided to just live by myself," Mrs. Marsh said yesterday. "I was -- and am -- tired of him manipulating me. Look, if he's going to kill me, he's going to kill me no matter what."
Mrs. Marsh says she still fears her husband, but she is determined to stay away from him.
It hasn't been easy in the past.
The two met when she was 18 in 1987 after the then 40-year-old Marsh was released from prison after serving 14 years on an Anne Arundel County murder conviction that eventually was overturned.
He was back in prison after Judge Burns sentenced him last year to a three-year term for violating the probation he was serving since pleading guilty in 1992 to second-degree rape for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
He was found to be in violation of probation after he was convicted last year of beating his wife.
"It's like he'd always hit me when I was down, when I was vulnerable," Mrs. Marsh said yesterday.
At the trial, Mrs. Marsh refused to testify against her husband. At a recess before her testimony was to begin, the couple was arguing loudly in the hallway.
He was convicted despite her refusal to testify.
"He could be a hard person to say 'No' to," Mrs. Marsh said.
Since October, Marsh had been awaiting Judge Burns' decision on his request for a reduction of the rape sentence. In his request, Marsh told the judge that he needed to be with his family.
When Marsh is released -- and Judge Burns has not said when that will be -- he likely won't have a family to come home to.
"I hope this time he has learned his lesson," Mrs. Marsh said. "I know now that I don't need a man."
The day after Sonia Marjorie Marsh, 4, was killed after being thrown from Mrs. Marsh's car, Marsh asked to attend services for his daughter. At first, Judge Burns said he would grant the request.
The next day, he changed his mind. And then Mrs. Marsh called the judge at home.
"As much as I don't want to see him, I thought it was important for him to see Sonia," Mrs. March said. "He spent about an hour with her and left her a really nice card.
"He's just a real bitter person," Mrs. Marsh said. "He believes he's owed everything because he spend 14 1/2 years in prison."
Marsh gained national attention when he was released from prison in 1987 after serving more than 14 years of a life-plus-10-year sentence.
That sentence stemmed from the June 1971 slaying of Charles R. Erdman, who was shot when he tried to stop a robbery at a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven.
The conviction was overturned after a key witness admitted she had lied.