For almost a month, a Washington, D.C. man has been fighting for his right to stay in the hospital with his wife, the victim of a brutal assault in her home seven weeks ago. Though unable to speak, she initially identified him as the attacker, but has since recanted her accusation.
The victim, Svetlana Guggenheim, 46, was found brutally beaten in her D.C. home in early April by her husband, David. An interpreter, she had been traveling for two weeks before returning home. David, 53, a successful marine biologist known as the “Ocean Doctor” on radio and online, had been away as well, traveling in New York and Philadelphia. Family members became concerned when they couldn’t reach Svetlana, alerting her husband. He allegedly rushed home.
‘It was horrible’
On Wednesday, David Guggenheim described what he found to TODAY's Matt Lauer: "I took the next train home in the morning and came home and found her lying on the bedroom floor. A lot of dried blood. She had been here a while. A horrible black eye in her left eye. She was shaking and incoherent. It was horrible." Among Svetlana's injuries was a blood clot serious enough to require brain surgery.
At first, David was by Svetlana's hospital bedside almost constantly. But Washington, D.C. police suddenly banned him from her room after Svetlana told a nurse that her husband had been the attacker. According to court documents, it was “Ms. Guggenheim’s explicit wishes that plaintiff [her husband] not be permitted to have contact with her.” Family members say that now Svetlana has no memory of saying that.
David went to court to fight the accusation, during which time he wasn't allowed to see his wife for a month, an experience he called “agonizing.” He told Lauer that when he was finally allowed back, “I didn’t know who I would see when I got to the hospital, but she’s herself, she has her faculties.” He reported that his wife is thin, frail, and fed by a feeding tube, but can now walk.
According to Guggenheim, his wife’s memory is returning, but she does not remember the incident. She cannot speak due to a tube in her throat, and she communicates with her family and hospital staff through writing and typing on an iPad. Anna Pavlichenko, 25, Svetlana’s daughter from a previous relationship who now lives in Florida, was also barred from seeing her mother. Pavlichenko has since been allowed back, and her first visit took place this past Mother’s Day.
‘I want to see my husband’
In an earlier interview with NBC News, David said the first question Pavlichenko asked her mom was whether it was he, her stepfather, who had beaten her. Sveltlana reportedly said no. “Anna and I wrote a statement for her to sign that said, ‘David didn’t directly or indirectly harm me. If there is a document that says I did, that should be invalid. I want to see my husband. Restore visitation.’”
Pavlichenko also interviewed her mother on camera about the incident. Sveltlana reportedly shook her head that no, her husband was not the attacker. Guggenheim said, “I emailed that information, the statement and the videotape to the DA and to the hospital.”
Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt told TODAY, "A combination of the husband's travel records, phone records, and surveillance cameras from the apartment should help the authorities rule him out, as long as they have a very tight time frame of when the actual assault took place."
Guggenheim says he has receipts that show he was away when the attacks occurred and that police are not taking steps to rule him out. “They have seemed actively disinterested in anything that would show that I was out of town during this incident ... I also told them I wasn’t alone during that trip at all, except when I was on the train. I gave them the names of all the people I was with, and they haven’t called a single person.”
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Though Guggenheim can now visit his wife, he still feels as though he is a person of interest in the case. He arrived home last night to find authorities in his apartment with a search warrant, seizing digital media, such as computers and Sveltlana’s phone. The police have not commented.Video: 'Ocean Doctor' kept from wife after mysterious attack (on this page)
Guggenheim insists domestic violence does not exist in his relationship with his wife. The couple have been married for 18 years. “It’s a peaceful home,” he said, adding that what the police have done to his family is wrong. “This was inhumane, to allow Svetlana to be waking up from this sort of injury isolated from the people she needs the most around her — her husband and her daughter.”
Guggenheim said he is speaking out not to clear his name, but to put a spotlight on what he thinks is a case mishandled by D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department.
“I’m very confident about my name in this,” he told Lauer. “I’m speaking out because of the way MPD has handled this, without a court order that has kept a family apart at their time of need. That should alarm people.”
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