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A FRIEND SAVES A LIFE IN NEED

lner Lee Still stopped his wife from doing a lot of things. That's what you can do when, with fists and force of will, you take someone's free will.

Still stopped her from buying new clothes, from hugging her children, from doing anything he didn't want her to. He stopped the emotionally enslaved, beaten woman from running away or calling the police, even to save her own life.

But he couldn't, no matter how hard he tried, stop her from having a friend.

That is what finally brought Ulner Still down. Friendship. That is the reason Susan Still -- after years under his control -- today is free. She has a new life, in a new place, with her two boys.

By "allowing" his wife into the outside world, by letting her -- because they needed money -- take a job, Still planted the seed of his deserved demise.

Work was the one place he could not watch Susan, control her. Those hours each day were the crack in her door to freedom. Given some light, friendship will flower, loyalty will grow, and love will triumph over hate.

That is what this is about: Good, given a chance, is stronger than evil.

We saw it in court last week, when a jury found the muscular, 50-year-old musician guilty of six felony assault charges. It was a tough case but an easy call. The key evidence was a 50-minute videotape of Still berating and beating his wife, made by their 13-year-old son. It is a slice of one woman's hell.

The beginning of Still's end was a woman named Lynn Jasper. They met when Susan took the job at a call center in Williamsville.

They are opposites in ways -- Lynn all brass and swagger, Susan as quiet as she is pretty. But they shared a love of their kids and a caring for others. Susan poured herself into everyone else, offering kind words over anybody's broken date or sick kid or out-of-work husband.

Even before Lynn saw the bruises, she smelled a problem. Susan was crazy about her sons, ages 9 and 13, but there were no photos on her desk. The tall, stunning woman wore old jeans and tattered sweat shirts -- her body covered from the neck down, even on warm days. Susan phoned her husband the instant she got to work, Lynn once overhearing her call him "master." Months later, after Susan finally left him, Ulner Still called Lynn at work, asking the whereabouts of "my property."

When the bruises -- finger marks on her neck, black-and-blue hands, bump on forehead -- came, so did excuses. A box fell. I was working in the garden. Finally, Lynn sat Susan down and said, "I think you have something to tell me."

Susan sobbed out the truth.

She begged Lynn not to tell, afraid for herself, afraid she'd lose her boys, afraid that she wouldn't be believed. The silence lasted until the day, weeks later, Susan came to work barely able to walk, makeup pancaked on her face. It was the morning after the videotaped beating.

Lynn called the Amherst police. Officers Kathy Onions and Cindy Herberger stepped in.

"I believe," said prosecutor Lisa Bloch Rodwin, "that (Lynn) saved this woman's life."

Lynn Jasper said she's no hero.

"All I did was love my friend," she said. "Do I let my friend die, or do I make a phone call? That's not a decision."

It's a decision a lot of us are faced with -- teachers, co-workers, neighbors, friends, family. Lynn Jasper picked up the phone. Not everyone does.

"I didn't save her life," said Lynn. "I'm the better person for knowing Susan. When I'd swear, she'd say, 'You really shouldn't use the Lord's name in vain.' How can you still believe that much in God when you're Susan?"

I don't know how you can. But having a friend helps.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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