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We ought to thank Ulner Lee Still.

Without intending to, he did us a favor.

It is not often that we're grateful to a man who degrades his wife and damages his kids. But Still is not your average, run-of-the-mill wife-beater.

His despicable assault comes with an asterisk. Still was a budding film director. The muscular 50-year-old musician didn't just pound his wife. He had his son, then 13, videotape it.

For that, we are thankful.

We are thankful not just because it sealed Still's fate in court. Prosecutor Lisa Bloch Rodwin didn't have to paint a word picture for jurors, who Monday convicted Still of felony assault and child endangerment. She just went to the 50-minute videotape.

It's more than that. We're thankful because Still created, for now and forever, a video document that backs up everything experts ever said about domestic violence -- everything that the naive or the skeptical downplayed or doubted.

It's about control. About fear. About intimidation. That's what those who know say. They say it rips a hole in a woman's spirit as horrible as any busted eardrum or black eye or broken jaw. It eats away her self-esteem until, at worst -- as in this case -- she blames herself for what he does.

That's what they say. That's what this tape shows. That's why Rodwin wants to use it as a training video for cops and prosecutors, if Susan Still agrees.

It would help every rookie cop understand what domestic violence is. It would remind every jaded veteran of its raw damage. It would enlighten any town justice who files this stuff under a husband-wife spat, who dismisses it -- even as it happens time and again -- as a flash of temper.

The tape is an argument to anyone -- in uniform, judges' robes or street clothes -- who thinks this stuff can't be so bad, because if it were, the woman would leave or the bruises would be bigger or the cops would've been called.

Watch this, and understand.

"The video makes the intensity of the psychological and physical abuse real," said Rodwin, head of the Domestic Violence Bureau in the district attorney's office, "in a way that no description ever could."

Watch this and understand how a beaten woman's silence is understandable, not absurd. Watch this and know how a woman's failure to leave isn't illogical, but -- in case after case -- routine.

Watch this and know why Susan Still never called the police (it was a co-worker, who saw the bruises). Watch this, and understand why it took Susan Still weeks to tell cops about all the beatings. That's how deep the fear gets drilled, day after day, month after month.

The tape was made as an instructional video -- not for law enforcement, but for the victim. It was to serve as a reminder to Susan Still to follow her husband's orders "to a T." It was made to record her "mistakes," punished with kicks and blows to the head as she lay on the floor.

She made mistakes, there's no doubt. Mistakes such as not asking his permission before hugging her sons, then 9 and 13. Mistakes such as saying hello to the kids when she came home before greeting him. Mistakes such as proudly showing family photos to co-workers -- aside from everything else, she wasn't allowed to have friends.

The final irony is the most delicious. Still, who denied his wife her freedom -- not just during months of beatings, but over years of emotional control -- now loses his.

She has a new life in a new city, with her two sons. He will spend at least seven years in prison -- where fellow inmates will ask him the same question he, in effect, pounded into his wife: Who's your daddy?


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