Suspended term given in killing

April 13, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia woman successfully used the battered-spouse syndrome yesterday to win a suspended prison term for the stabbing death of her live-in boyfriend last October.

Tatyana Kogan told a Howard Circuit judge that she could no longer tolerate the beatings from 31-year-old Andrei Gordon when he attacked her in a dispute over a piece of pie.

"I told him to stop," said the soft-spoken native of Belarus, formerly part of the Soviet Union. "He hit me. He told me it was time to die. I believed him because he said it so many times.

"I was so scared," she said.

Despite the repeated beatings, Ms. Kogan said she is grateful to Mr. Gordon for giving her what she called a "most beautiful gift" -- her 5-year-old daughter, Jessica.

The Kogan case is an example of how the battered-spouse syndrome, a psychological condition in which prolonged domestic abuse provokes a victim to violence, is being used as a defense in Maryland's courts.

Maryland is one of 10 states that permit defense attorneys to introduce evidence of the syndrome during court proceedings. Most women who use the defense are convicted. Well-known cases in which the syndrome was cited include that of Lorena Bobbitt.

In 1991, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer granted parole or commuted the sentences for murder and assault convictions of 12 women who were abused by their husbands or boyfriends, citing the syndrome.

During a six-hour hearing yesterday, Judge Dennis Sweeney heard testimony from Ms. Kogan's friends and a psychologist who described her tormented relationship with Mr. Gordon, who pursued Ms. Kogan from their homeland to Columbia during an eight-year period.

Ms. Kogan, 26, broke into tears and hugged one of her public defenders as Judge Sweeney issued her sentence.

Judge Sweeney sentenced Ms. Kogan to six years in prison, but suspended all except the 183 days she has served in the Howard County Detention Center while awaiting trial. The sentencing followed an arrangement in which she had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Ms. Kogan also must complete five years of supervised probation and counseling as part of her sentence.

She was expected to be released from the detention center last night and be reunited with her daughter. Ms. Kogan and her daughter will live with an Ellicott City woman whom she met at a Bible-study program at the county jail.

Judge Sweeney cautioned Ms. Kogan to take what happened very seriously, despite her lenient sentence.

"This is obviously a very sad situation," the judge said. "The court doesn't want to excuse or diminish the death of Mr. Gordon. . . . A young man is gone. That is irretrievable."

Ms. Kogan, initially charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty last month to stabbing Mr. Gordon once in the chest with a steak knife at their townhouse in Columbia's Wilde Lake village Oct. 11.

Lawrence Raifman, a Baltimore psychologist who examined Ms. Kogan for her attorneys, testified that the woman fits the classic definition of a battered woman.

He described the syndrome as a result of a repeated cycle of physical violence and psychological degradation that the victim cannot stop. He said abusers typically goad their spouses into arguments.

In this case, Mr. Raifman believes Mr. Gordon started a fight over the pie because he was angry that Ms. Kogan refused to have sex with him the night before and that she was going to a job interview that day.

Battered women such as Ms. Kogan typically kill their abuser impulsively -- often during an argument -- when a weapon is handy, Mr. Raifman said.

"This was not a love relationship," he said. "[Mr. Gordon] was more obsessed with her."

Assistant State's Attorney Christine Gage requested a three-year prison sentence for Ms. Kogan -- the maximum term she could receive under the plea deal.

Ms. Gage disputed Ms. Kogan's contention that she suffered from battered-spouse syndrome. "She may have believed her life was in danger, but does that make her a victim of battered-spouse syndrome?" Ms. Gage asked. "I don't think so."

Ms. Gage also argued that Ms. Kogan's plea deal for the manslaughter charge already took into account her abuse by Mr. Gordon, so she should not receive a lesser sentence.

But Assistant Public Defender Jane McGough urged Judge Sweeney to consider the testimony of Ms. Kogan's friends and neighbors, who noted a drastic change in the woman's behavior after Mr. Gordon's arrival in Columbia in 1992.

Friends testified that Ms. Kogan was a friendly, outgoing person who became isolated and withdrawn after Mr. Gordon moved in with her.

Bella Schiller, a former neighbor of Ms. Kogan's on Twin Rivers Road, said Ms. Kogan often wore sunglasses on cloudy days as well as long skirts and long-sleeved shirts during the summer. Ms. Schiller testified that she believes Ms. Kogan was hiding bruises.

Another friend, Maria Jakaviak of Ellicott City, said Ms. Kogan never reported the incidents, partly out of fear that Mr. Gordon would kill her or their daughter.

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