The documentary ‘Evil Lives Here: The Monster Inside Him’ on Investigation Discovery follows Vernetta Cockerham as she recounts how she endured a horrific tragedy but found the strength to fight for domestic violence victims everywhere as a result of her experiences. An uplifting story about a woman who, after the death of her only child, Candice Cockerham, fought against the city and the system in order to make things better for those people who have been victimised by violence.
Who is Vernetta Cockerham?
Vernetta Cockerham was born in the year 1969 in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. Due to the fact that her parents were unable to provide a secure environment for her and her siblings, their maternal grandmother, Marie Edmonds, took care of them from the time they were very small. She was the youngest of three sisters. The sisters moved to the quaint community of Jonesville in North Carolina with their mother Marie when they were old enough to start attending public schools. Marie worked as a nurse at a nearby nursing facility. Marie’s upbringing of her grandchildren was very traditional; for example, she would take them to church on Sundays and feed them vegetables that had been canned.
Marie was the one who taught Vernetta to stand up for herself and fight. This lesson was properly established in her, and as a result, she would go on to battle the system and alter it. Vernetta moved to Newark, New Jersey, when she was 14 years old in an effort to get to know her mother. After that, she moved to Paterson, New Jersey, to live with her father and attend high school there. Vernetta, a math tutor, had Kevin Baker, a linebacker, as a student during the summer before her sophomore year. Baker was Vernetta’s pupil. They had a whirlwind courtship that resulted in her being pregnant in the middle of the school year. Both were surprised by the news.
Candice was born in Jonesville while Vernetta was only 15 years old. After moving back to Paterson, Vernetta wed Kevin, who was then 18 years old. Richard Ellerbee, who once dated Kevin’s sister, was the one who broke the news to Vernetta that her boyfriend was cheating on her with another woman. Vernetta felt indebted to Richard, who was 13 years her older, for encouraging her to end her marriage to Kevin. After their split, Richard became one of Vernetta’s closest confidants. After completing her education, she began working for the Paterson Police Department in the department’s records office. When Candice was six years old, her mother and her son uprooted their family and went to Jonesville, where the mother worked two jobs while raising her daughter.
Richard moved to Jonesville in 1993 in order to find work, and it was around this time that he began dating Vernetta, who was 24 at the time. In 1995, despite the fact that she had decided she did not want any more children following the difficult labour and delivery of Candice, she found out that she was pregnant with Richard’s first son Rashieq. Richard coerced her into marrying him in December 2001 against her will after she discovered she was pregnant with their second son, Dominiq, in 2001. Dominiq was born in that same year. By that time, Vernetta had begun to recognise Richard for who he really was, which was someone who had major problems controlling his rage.
Vernetta was subjected to everyday domestic abuse at home, so on July 4, 2002, she had Richard arrested on accusations of felony assault with a dangerous weapon. Richard was charged with assaulting Vernetta with a deadly weapon. Despite this, Richard was released on bond almost immediately, and the abuse carried on. Even though she filed many complaints with the police, had him arrested on multiple occasions, and obtained a restraining order against him, Richard continued to be unfazed by her actions. He followed her around, harassed her, and even broke into her house, leaving threatening notes and digging small graves around her property in an effort to terrify her. He did this because he was obsessed with her.
Vernetta continued to make complaints and followed the law in every other respect, but Richard was never arrested for an extended period of time. All of the assaults and threats finally led to Richard killing Candice and nearly killing Vernetta on November 12, 2002, before setting himself on fire three days later. This act of violence and harassment culminated in Richard’s suicide.
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Where is Vernetta Cockerham Today?
Vernetta’s injuries required a significant amount of time to heal, but she eventually got back on her feet and in November of 2004 she filed a wrongful death case against Jonesville and two police officers. After a court battle that lasted for five years, she finally secured a settlement with the city council in June of 2009 and was granted a sum of money equal to $430,000. She added that although it had taken a long time, this was something that was well worth the wait for the individuals that it is going to help. Efforts are already being made to strengthen legislation governing domestic abuse, and I am thrilled to be a part of this process. What the settlement means to me is that I have high hopes that I will be able to bring about positive changes and services in Yadkin County.
Through the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Vernetta continues to advocate for victims of domestic abuse. “…what really impressed me about Vernetta is that she instantly went into advocacy mode, providing a support to other victims and looking for the systemic holes and how we can remedy them,” said Rita Anita Linger, the executive director of the group. Vernetta has been working to get a bill passed in the Senate that would continue to help people who have been victims of sexual or domestic violence and would campaign for the prosecution of people who disobey restraining orders.
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