MACEDON — Two mothers forever linked by tragedy and domestic violence met face-to-face Friday.
There were no tears, at first. Their ordeals have made them tough, they said during an introduction promoted in part through the Times Herald.
Dale Driscoll of Macedon and Linda Randolph of Cuba are separated by 105 miles, but their stories are nearly mirror images. They’ve long fought for the same cause — a state law requiring violent felons to publicly register similarly to sex offenders upon release from prison, which to this point awaits a successful end.
Driscoll is a 60-year-old retiree. Her daughter, Helen Buchel, and granddaughter, Brittany Passalacqua, were brutally murdered in Geneva by Buchel’s boyfriend, John Edward Brown, in November 2009.
“He had nearly decapitated both of them,” Driscoll said, noting she cringes at the amount of rage and time it would’ve taken to do so with a box cutter. She still managed a smile while showing off the last school picture taken of Brittany.
Brown had earlier served part of a three-year prison sentence for assaulting his own infant daughter. Buchel didn’t know the details of his past.
After their deaths, the bereaved mother and grandmother began pushing Brittany’s Law, which is the Domestic Violence Prevention Act.
Brittany would have graduated from high school this year. An inaugural $1,200 scholarship is being given in her name to a member of her class, Driscoll said.
Randolph is a 53-year-old homemaker. Her daughter, Shannon Pepper, loved Anthony Nevone because he was strong — a protector, or so she thought, after a previous abusive marriage. But in July 2013, Nevone turned his strength against Pepper, subjecting her to two days of torture and alleged rape — breaking her jaw, teeth and ribs with blunt objects like a DVD player and candlestick holder, blackening her eyes, and nearly biting her lips off.
She spent nearly a month in a coma. The assault didn’t kill her, but an accidental apartment fire later did Feb. 21 after drinking to cope with her hellish memories, Randolph said.
Pepper never knew Nevone had previously served just seven years of a 15-year prison sentence after assaulting an ex-girlfriend.
Before her death, the mother-and-daughter team had also petitioned extensively for Brittany’s Law, which has passed each cycle in the state Senate but has been stifled in the Assembly.
“This has been going on too long,” Randolph said, noting the current state Department of Corrections website isn’t detailed enough to raise red flags for partners of potential abusers. “Had my daughter known that Nevone was in prison for beating a woman up and cutting her ear off, she would have steered away from him because she, herself, was getting away from an abusive husband.”
The two mothers shared pictures and videos, exchanged gifts and saw the pain in each other’s eyes for the first time.
“It just so happened my daughter liked fairies, as well,” Driscoll said. “Too many similarities.”
“It’s kind of shocking,” Randolph added.
“The excuses the guys made for being in jail. It was the exact same thing, a barroom brawl while protecting a girl,” Driscoll said. “I couldn’t believe it when she told me the same thing.”
They then left Driscoll’s home in suburban Rochester for the office of Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Geneva, to ask the minority leader why a “common sense” bill that has encountered no difficulty in the Senate has never made it to the Assembly floor.
“Tell us what it is. Let us have our understanding. We’re logical people here,” Randolph pleaded with Kolb, who supports the bill which does have bipartisan support with co-sponsorship on the Democratic side by Assembly member Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh.
Brittany’s Law has been muddled by “downstate politics,” Kolb said, and hasn’t made it through committees and the Democratic Conference. But he cited confidence the bill would pass if it reaches the Assembly floor.
Kolb criticized Assembly Democrats who “often resist” criminal justice legislation.
“The sad part about it, some of this is just plain politics. What I mean by politics is if you have a legislator from Queens or Brooklyn or the Bronx, you’re not their constituent,” Kolb said. “I’m going to care a heck of a lot more about this because you’re my constituent. … We’re going to fight as long as we need to make it happen.”
Kolb further called one opposing argument about the registry’s potential costs an “artificial objection.”
“It’s not like we’re saying we need $1 billion to do this program,” the minority leader added.
Bill co-sponsor state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Seneca Falls, along with Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and other Senate leaders will hold a press conference Monday in Albany to promote another push for Brittany’s Law.
Brown was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder.
Nevone will serve a maximum of 20 years for first-degree assault.
“One of the arguments that they always give us is, ‘Well, they served their time,’” Driscoll said. “The victims — if they’re lucky enough to survive — and the families of the victims, we don’t get parole. We live with this every day from the time we wake up, throughout the day and when we go to bed at night.”
“I’ll keep fighting as long as I can pump air,” Randolph added. “I think that Dale is the beginning, and I’m hoping that Shannon’s case will be the end.”
(Contact reporter Kelsey Boudin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @KelseyMBoudin)