When Bernadette Sugrim was a 17-year-old in love with her future husband, he confessed a terrible secret to her.
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“He came to me and said, ‘I did something really bad, I’m such a terrible person,’’’ Sugrim told NBC News. “‘I killed somebody.’’’
Thinking she could save him from his murderous past, the Michigan woman harbored that awful truth until, she said, he began to become abusive after they were married and had two children. Then her husband then came forward with another horrific confession — he had killed again.
Ultimately, Bernadette pressed charges and took the witness stand against her husband in the murder case of Linda Gibson, who was found beaten and stabbed in an empty field in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2003. Brian Sugrim was sentenced to life in prison without parole after being convicted by a jury in February of first-degree murder. Sugrim’s story is detailed in an episode of “Dateline’’ airing at 10 p.m. (ET) Friday.Video: Wife of confessed murderer: “I was terrified” (on this page)
“The biggest message I want to get out to other women in the same situation is not to let the fear paralyze you,’’ she told TODAY on Friday. “That’s what it did for me for many years, and I regret that I wasn’t able to do something sooner.’’
A gun under her pillow
Her husband’s confession of a second murder left Bernadette terrified that she would be his next victim if she disclosed his secret. She slept with a loaded gun under her pillow and wrote a letter to a friend saying that if she suddenly disappeared or died, it would most likely be because her husband had killed her.
“There were many opportunities (to contact the police), but I was terrified,’’ Bernadette told Matt Lauer, accompanied on the show by her two children. “He told me that if I ever left, he would kill me, and if he didn’t kill me, he would kill my family. He would find every one of them. In fear of that, of just the people I love, I didn’t say anything or go anywhere.’’
The final straw before Bernadette contacted authorities came last May, when she returned home to find her husband beating their 11-year-old daughter, Skye, who escaped, ran to a neighbor’s house and called 911. That incident came just six weeks after she had written the letter to her friend.
“It wasn’t hard to call the police,’’ Skye told Lauer. “It was worse after everything — that night and just things setting in and realizing what was going on. I don’t really remember a lot of it. It was really just a fast blur.’’
Police came and arrested her husband, and Bernadette seized the opportunity to inform them of his disclosure of murdering Gibson.Video: Cops: Killer snatched baby to hide miscarriage
“In that moment, you know that this is the one chance you have to do something and say something,’’ she told NBC News.
‘Frightened the whole time’
In court, Brian claimed that his wife had brain damage from a heart attack and was lying. Meanwhile, she and her children lived in fear that he would be acquitted and come after them with violent intentions.
“I was frightened the whole time,’’ she told Lauer. “I was nervous about what the outcome would be, and terrified that we would have to pick up and move and change our whole lives, our names and have to run from him for the rest of our lives.’’
In an interview with Amy Robach, Brian denied having killed Gibson. However, he did confess to Robach that he had killed someone in his past, but declined to specify who it was.
“Like I’m going to sit here and tell you that,’’ he said.Video: Woman turns her husband in for murder (on this page)
His actions throughout their relationship have led to questions of why Bernadette did not leave him immediately or contact authorities after he told her the first time that he had killed someone.
“I was very young, and I was in love,’’ she said. “I didn’t see anything else at the time. I just knew that I was in love with this person, and I wanted to be with him, and he made all these promises about how good our life was going to be together.’’
With Brian now behind bars, the Sugrim family has been able to carry on with their lives without the threat of violence looming.
“It’s much better,’’ Bernadette said. “A lot less anxiety and a lot less stress. Honestly, we’re just living one day at a time and enjoying it.’’
“Dateline” airs at 10 p.m. (ET) Friday on NBC.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints