Joliet woman tormented by ex inspires new law to help others
By Jon Seidel Sun-Times Mediafirstname.lastname@example.org August 26, 2011 6:08PM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a law named after Rebecca Mercado, photographed Friday August 26, 2011, to strengthen the penalties against abusers. | Art Vassy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 4, 2011 10:47AM
Rebecca Mercado said her struggle with domestic violence could have ended the day a judge gave her ex-husband a 4œ-year prison sentence.
Erick Mercado-Hernandez, 30, beat her with a metal broom and a piece of wood in their Joliet home for two days in July 2009, prosecutors said. Mercado said he also lit a gasoline fire in their yard to burn family photographs while their children watched. And when he slept, she said he kept one arm around her so she couldn’t leave.
“I had no break from it,” said Mercado, 27. “Even overnight, he wouldn’t let me sleep.”
Eventually Mercado was able to call for help, and try to put her ordeal in the past.
But when she heard the stories of other battered women in Illinois, Mercado said she decided to create “extreme good” from her personal nightmare, pushing legislation that would bear her name.
Now Gov. Pat Quinn has signed “Rebecca’s Law,” increasing sentences in battery cases involving torture to a minimum of four years and a maximum of 15, according to the Will County state’s attorney’s office.
The previous maximum penalty was five years, and Mercado-Hernandez’s sentence fell just six months short. Judge Amy Bertani-Tomczak handed down the sentence after Mercado-Hernandez pleaded guilty to aggravated and domestic battery and apologized to his wife and children. His attorney, Cosmo Tedone, sought probation.
Nevertheless, Mercado expects her ex-husband to leave prison as soon as December, about 2œ years after the beating.
“He could have killed me, and he probably would have,” Mercado said.
Mercado-Hernandez told the judge he lost control. But his wife said he’d always been abusive. She explained how the abuse finally culminated on July 27, 2009.
Mercado said her husband punched her, called her names and hit her with a metal broomstick until it was mangled.
She said she vomited blood and passed out, and she said her husband told her he wanted her to die.
And although Mercado said she had an opportunity to flee, she didn’t want to leave their three children — then 6 months to 5 years — alone in the house with him.
“There was no way I was going to leave any of my children behind,” Mercado said.
The children were foremost in her mind, Mercado said, when the opportunity finally came to call 911. When Mercado-Hernandez finally took a trip to the bathroom without the phone, Mercado dialed 911 and set it down. When he returned, she spoke loudly, hoping dispatchers would hear what was going on.
That call brought police. In tears, she motioned to an officer and lifted the back of her shirt so police could see her injuries. They took Mercado-Hernandez into custody.
Mercado-Hernandez was indicted on the battery charges and eventually pleaded guilty. He told the judge he wanted probation so he could help care for his children.
“He really wanted to be there for his kids,” Tedone said.
Tedone said he thinks his client’s case is being politicized because it inspired a new law. Though he said “no one should ever hit a woman,” he also said the abuse occurred overnight, not over two days, and the children didn’t see it.
Mercado wound up meeting with Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, and he worked with Illinois Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) and Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) to pass the legislation. Mercado testified before lawmakers in Springfield.
She said she was nervous at first to do so, but she began to feel calm as she told her story.
“I knew that it wasn’t really about me anymore,” Mercado said. “It was about other people.”