A Mother's Second Chance

In one desperate moment, Laura Rogers ended her old life. Making her new life work will take longer.

Cover Story

August 14, 2005|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

"I ask the court to see that I'm able to go home and give these children the love they not only need but that they deserve."

-- Laura Rogers, Nov. 9, 2004, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court

On April 24, 2004, Laura Rogers aimed a 20-gauge shotgun one foot from the left eye of her sleeping husband. She had never fired a weapon, so she followed the instructions. The gun proved easier to load than she thought.

At 6 a.m., streetlights shone through their bedroom window on Walter Rogers. Laura hesitated, then didn't.

The shotgun worked.

Laura and Walter: They met at a Clint Black concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1992. Love at first sight, he told people. A charmer, she thought. They married and had a son. Laura's son and daughter from a previous marriage also lived with them. They moved around the South before finally settling in an apartment in an Anne Arundel County industrial park. Three years into the marriage, things had gone bad, then went beyond worse.

Laura's story is one of crime and punishment, fear and forgiveness. A wife kills her sadistic husband for sexually preying on her daughter. The daughter, who wears a ring that says "Mom," needs to see her stepfather's autopsy photographs. "Kind of gross. But then, I knew it. He really is dead," she says. A videotape, finally discovered, exposes the truth about Walter Rogers.

"He should have been awake when she put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger," says Laura's attorney, Clarke Ahlers of Columbia. "It was a homicide without a victim."

Six months after her release from jail in November, 36-year-old Laura Rogers sits in the garage of her boyfriend's rented house in Westminster. Bronzy from a tanning-bed stint, she has a smoke and plans a karaoke party for her daughter's 18th birthday this summer. She might even take her family to Ocean City. Birthday parties and vacations -- Laura can do things like that now.

"For the first time in 12 years, I feel free," she says. "It's scary, exciting, different, but I feel free."

"When we went in to clean the house," says Laura's father, Roy Robey, "I noticed the keyed deadbolt on the inside of her room."

In late April 2004, Laura and her children -- not identified because they are minors -- were gone from the squalid, three-bedroom apartment, which was attached to a scaffolding business in Annapolis Junction where Walter had worked as a laborer. Laura was in jail, and her children would be placed in her parents' custody in Mount Airy. His daughter would soon be indicted on first-degree murder charges and face life in prison.

"Not once was I sorry that she did it," Robey says. "A long time ago, Walter broke my daughter's spirit."

For the last six years of their nine-year marriage, Laura says she lived in terror. Walter was quick to anger, quick to threaten to kill her -- sometimes with a knife. After one minor disagreement, she recalls, he swung a baseball bat at her head but missed, hitting the refrigerator instead. He occasionally struck her, but more often chose to intimidate and demean her, she says. But if she left, where would she go? She had no money, no authority, no control. "Learned helplessness," as described by psychiatrists of battered spouses.

"I guess I got used to it," Laura says.

When the family moved to Annapolis Junction, Walter gave his stepdaughter the bedroom with the deadbolt. Behind her locked door, evidence would show, Rogers repeatedly raped her. She would say later that he had been abusing her since she was 7. He had videotaped the sexual abuse, then forced his stepdaughter to watch the videos. He threatened to hurt her if she told her mother or police.

She tried on at least two occasions to stop him. In Mississippi in 2000, she told authorities Rogers had molested her. But he convinced police and his wife that he was innocent and charges were dropped.

In May 2003 in Maryland, a friend of Laura's daughter contacted an official at the high school they attended. The girl told Anne Arundel County's Department of Social Services that her friend was being sexually abused by her stepfather. (Due to confidentiality laws involving juveniles, the Department of Social Services declined comment.)

Records show the friend also repeated to police something Laura's daughter had told her: "The suspect had also set up a video through the television to tape the incidents." According to attorney Ahlers, police apparently did not ask Laura or any other family member about possible videotapes, nor did they apply for a warrant to search for any.

"The detectives believed they didn't have enough evidence or information to obtain a search warrant for that item," says Sgt. Shawn Urbas of the Anne Arundel County Police Department. Walter's video would not be discovered for another year.

When police interviewed Laura's daughter about the sexual abuse allegations, Ahlers says she gave "a somewhat inconsistent statement" to authorities.

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