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'I wanted people to know that you could survive an attack'

Sept. 28, 2011
The Daily World

Polished, petite and slightly impatient, Judy St. Amand walked into her first of countless court hearings and scanned the room.

No one had looked familiar when she sifted through a handful of mug shots months earlier, but DNA does not lie, she told herself.

Her eyes stopped at a defendant wearing a prison jumpsuit and she felt the pang of recognition. She knew they had the right man.

"Just looking at him after a while, I said to my sister, 'That's him. That is him. I recognize him. That's him.' And he kept staring at me and I kept staring at him," St. Amand said.

He, Joseph T. Savoie, was the man who had brutally bound, beaten, sexually assaulted and left her for dead more than a decade and a half earlier.

Savoie's trial ended last month and, now, St. Amand can tell the story she has wanted to convey for 17 years. She had always planned to come forward once the trial ended.

"I wanted to take some of the shame out of it, because I wanted people to know that you could survive an attack," St. Amand said. "And I wanted people to know that you can be the same person after it."

1 p.m. June 23, 1994

St. Amand, 45, was having a flare-up of lupus, the autoimmune disease with which she had been diagnosed two years earlier.

The pain was distracting, but life was good. Her first grandchild had been born three months earlier.

She heard a knock on her back door, not an uncommon occurrence for the seamstress on a Thursday afternoon.

The man at the back door smiled at her and explained that his uncle resided at the nursing home nearby. That was why he walked by and noticed her car, which he was interested in buying, he told her.

"It was a 1982 (Oldsmobile) Cutlass Supreme, and I said to him, 'Why would you want that car? It's an old car.' And he said, 'Well, I just happened to like that particular car,'" St. Amand said. "And I thought to myself, 'Well, it's 12 years old. Maybe I could sell it.'"

St. Amand explained that she would need to talk to her husband, who was out of town on business, about it, and asked the man to write down his name and number.

He obliged, took the pad and pencil St. Amand had retrieved and wrote down "Kim Anderson" and a local number.

The two exchanged pleasantries before it began to drizzle. Before Anderson left, he told St. Amand that he worked at Opelousas General Hospital, and asked her to call the maintenance department and tell them that he would be late.

St. Amand did not know that the Kim Anderson she had just met actually was Joseph T. Savoie, then-28, and the home phone number he gave her was fake. Later, she would figure that the afternoon visit had been planned to lull her into a false sense of security.

That afternoon, however, the man she knew as Anderson went on his way, and St. Amand called OGH before she continued crafting tablecloths.

"And they told me that they couldn't find a Kim Anderson who worked there," she said, "and I just thought to myself, 'Well, that figures. I've never gotten a bill from them that was straight. They don't even know who works there.'"

9 p.m. June 23, 1994

Later that afternoon, St. Amand answered another knock on her door and accepted a large hanger from a client. It was at least a quarter-inch thick and would support the tablecloths well.

St. Amand's usually well-kept home in Opelousas' historic district was askew from home renovations, so she stepped over a 100-foot, orange electrical cord, tossed the thick wire hanger onto her loveseat and stepped around a vacuum cleaner she had left out.

Her day soon ended, and shortly before 9 p.m., she found herself watching "Larry King Live" and listening to the host talk about the O.J. Simpson case.

She heard a knock on her back door, got up and saw the man she had spoken to that afternoon smiling at her. She thought it was strange that he wouldn't wait for a phone call, but guessed he wanted to know more about the car.

"I went to the door and he actually pushed it in on me and my keys went sailing across the floor," St. Amand said. "And immediately his face just changed completely. He came in and pulled this really big shoestring out of his pocket and put it around my neck."

The change in his face scared St. Amand the most, and she knew that he wanted to kill her. She thought quickly as he pushed her toward the floor.

"I said, 'Why are you doing this to me? I'm a sick woman!' And I thought, 'I have lupus? He might not even know what that is,'" she said. "So I said, 'I have AIDS.'"

That lie might have saved St. Amand's life and saved her from worse crimes, she said.

The struggle

St. Amand was lying on her back on her hardwood floor with Savoie sitting on her chest. He spotted the electrical cord lying nearby and began wrapping it around St. Amand's neck.

She clawed at the cord and her neck, leaving tiny scratch marks while she tried to keep from being strangled. But Savoie was too strong. St. Amand passed out and when she came to, her hands were bound with the electrical cord. Savoie had walked into another room, heard St. Amand's struggle and sat on her chest again.

"He wasn't just fooling around. He meant business," St. Amand said. "I just had this feeling that he was going to kill me. It was a malevolent look on his face, and everything that he did was just with utter disregard. And you could just tell that he didn't care about me at all. So one of my goals was to make him see that I was a person. And a good person. And he didn't necessarily have to kill me."

At one point she called him by his alias, saying, "Kim, why are you doing this to me? I'm a good person." He did not respond. St. Amand again passed out and when she came to, he was at her back door.

Then she screamed loudly, and Savoie charged toward her and hit her in the face. He told her that she would die if she screamed again. The power of the blow was doubled when St. Amand's head bounced off her hardwood floor.

"Because of the adrenaline, you could feel the power of it, but it didn't hurt like if you stubbed your toe or something and there was nothing else going on," she said. She passed out again and shortly after she came to, she was completely hog-tied — her neck was to her waist and her legs, too, were to her waist.

St. Amand heard Savoie in the kitchen, and despite the terrifying situation, she remembered her manners.

"I said, 'There's some chicken stew on the stove if you're hungry.' And again, this was to try to humanize myself to him. And he didn't say anything," she said. She passed out again and heard him walking around the house. "It was almost like I could hear him thinking, 'What am I going to do? What am I going to do?' And then he came in the room and he had a butcher knife in his hand — the one I had used to make the chicken stew — and I thought, 'Oh, my God. He's going to stab me!'"

St. Amand's worst fear did not come true. Savoie used the knife to cut more electrical wire from the vacuum she had left out and then began undoing the thick, wire hanger St. Amand had put aside for hanging tablecloths.

"I thought to myself, 'Oh, my God. He's going to skewer me with it!' But he didn't. He used it to wire my hands together, because every time I woke up, I would start undoing my hands. And so, at that point, there was nothing I could do.

"And the whole time he was doing it, I was just praying to God that I would get over this. And I was just saying to him the whole time, 'No. No. No. No.' And I think I was saying, 'No. You're not going to kill me. No. I'm not going to die.

"The one thing I wanted to see was my grandson grow up, and I just wasn't ready to die."

Savoie finished binding St. Amand's hands and asked her if she had any money. She told him that her wallet and purse were in the sewing room and gave him directions.

He took the items from the sewing room and then walked back into the living room.

He was almost done with St. Amand, but first he wanted her to do one more thing. He asked, in an explicit way that she perform oral sex on him.

"And I had to oblige, because there was nothing else that I could do. Not that I actually really participated in it, but I was an orifice," she said. "And when he finished, although my hands were wired, although they were wired together, I could wipe the semen onto my shirt. And that was the DNA evidence that they had in order to catch him."

Later, friends and family would tell St. Amand that she should have bitten him, but that might have enraged him more, she thought, and perhaps could have moved him to kill her.

He did not kill her, but instead grabbed St. Amand by her legs and dragged her over the threshold into her bedroom and over old shag rugs. That was the first time she felt a lot of pain.

Savoie shoved her into her closet and pushed a chest of drawers and a bed in front of the closet door. He left with the 1982 Cutlass Supreme.

"He was totally dispassionate the whole time he was doing it. It was like I was a steer or something in the field and his job was to kill me and that's what he was going to do," St. Amand said. "He was very intense and intent."

Escape

The closet was pitch black, and St. Amand realized that if she struggled too much she could feel herself beginning to pass out.

She knew one wrong move could lead to strangulation. Death was not something St. Amand feared, but not something she wanted.

"I had made my peace with dying, but one of the reasons I didn't want to die is because I thought it would be so horrible for my parents and my brothers and sisters, because they would never know that I had made my peace," she said. "They would always think that I was terribly scared. You really don't have time to be scared when something like that is going on. You're just struggling, trying to save your life, trying to figure out some way you don't end up dead after this."

St. Amand collected herself and mentally thanked Savoie for never being a Boy Scout, because his knots were terrible. Although her hands were bound, she began to work at the cords around her neck.

"It was kind of stretchy, so as I pulled at them, I messed with all of them and finally one of them got to be long enough that I pulled it over my head," she said. "And then, after one, I could pull all of the rest of them over. And after that, I wasn't afraid of choking myself anymore."

It was easier to struggle with the other restraints when St. Amand was no longer afraid of strangulation.

She freed herself and then began to push at the barricaded door. Somehow, she pushed open the door enough to squeeze through and call the police.

It still was June 23, 1994 and 11 p.m. Savoie had assaulted St. Amand for an hour and she had been trapped inside the closet for another hour, St. Amand estimated.

Recovery

The police arrived at St. Amand's home, took photos and interviewed her. St. Amand's face was badly bruised, but she refused medical attention because she did not have insurance.

"I didn't want to have all that expense, because I was basically all right. My biggest problem was that I had a break with humanity and believing in them and trusting them," she said.

St. Amand's first investigator did not catch her attacker, and her case eventually would go cold. The photos of her battered face would be lost, and her semen-soiled shirt would sit in an evidence box until the late 2000s.

That was far off in the future, however, and St. Amand immediately was concerned with not staying in her home alone.

She called her brother, who offered to let her stay in the downstairs bedroom. That made her uncomfortable, so he offered his granddaughter's upstairs bedroom, down the hall from his and his wife's own.

"I said, 'OK.' And I took a bath, and I sat on the side of their bed. And I just stayed there," St. Amand said. "I just couldn't bear to be by myself. So I stayed awake all night long because I just couldn't believe what had happened. I just couldn't believe it."

It was hard for other people to believe, too. Her friends and family expressed disbelief when she told them, until she sternly said, "Somebody tried to kill me."

Her former sister-in-law, Judy Bastien, was shocked. Bastien, an Opelousas native, also happens to be the interim editor for The Daily World.

The morning after the attack, St. Amand called her husband. She knew if he heard her voice then he would know she was OK. She worried that if she called the night before, he would rush home and injure himself.

He was upset, but supportive and returned to Opelousas from Houma while St. Amand was at the doctor's office.

Still, just a week after the attack, St. Amand was back in her home, staying alone during the day. She would think about the attack almost every day. Hearing a news story about an attack would trigger memories of her attack, as would getting home after nightfall, talking to someone about an illness or going somewhere at night.

"Lots of things trigger it. It's just that I can think about it without actually being there. If you let yourself get to the point where you're actually there, that can be bad. But it can never be as bad as it was. That's over," she said.

"After that, it was gaining back my trust in humanity, because everything was difficult. Staying at my house by myself was hard the first few times that I did that, but I was determined that I was not going to narrow my life just because of what happened to me.

"Going shopping and having people walking behind me was very difficult because I was afraid of everyone, so I would turn around and look at who it was. But I kept making myself do things that were hard.

"The first Thursday night that I was here by myself was hard. The anniversary was hard, but it was never as hard as I thought it would be. So I just kept moving forward."

Then, St. Amand talked to her brother, Mark Stanford, a counselor. He gave her empowering advice when she asked him how she should deal with the attack.

"He said, 'You can't do it wrong. Whatever you do is right. If you want to talk about it, talk about it. If you don't want to talk about it, don't talk about it. But whatever you do to get over it is right for you.' And that was very freeing, because, you know, you kind of wonder how you're supposed to act as somebody who's been attacked and nearly killed," she said. "Then I realized that I could just be me, and that's how I was and that's how it's been."

Answers

When Opelousas Police Chief Perry Gallow took office in 2007, he appointed a diligent detective to look into cold cases and investigate unanswered violent crimes.

In 2004, according to court documents, a crime lab outside of Opelousas matched the DNA evidence in St. Amand's case to an incarcerated inmate, but it was not until 2008 that any action was taken on that match.

Detectives visited St. Amand to tell her their news. She felt relieved, knowing that "he wasn't still out there doing horrible things to other people."

Savoie, formerly of Lafayette, had been in Angola State Prison for a slew of charges, and in 2001 was sentenced to 65 years hard labor for armed robbery. His aliases include the alternate spelling of "Savoy" and "John T. Savoy."

He was a registered sex offender, and was charged more than 60 times during his adult life for crimes including molestation, robbery, assault and obscenity.

He first was incarcerated as a juvenile. When he was 14, according to court documents, he was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated rape. He was sent to a juvenile detention center until he was 21.

Savoie was arrested for his 1994 crime against St. Amand in October 2008 and charged with attempted first degree murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated kidnapping.

The first two charges were dropped because too much time had passed, so the state built a case on aggravated kidnapping.

Countless court hearings later, and Savoie, 45, was on trial this spring in a 17-year-old cold case.

St. Amand, now 63, was at every court hearing, sitting, listening and waiting.

"When we were in court, he would actually turn around and smile at me and smirk," she said. "And every time he would smile at me, I would smile at him. Because, I don't know why he was smiling, but I was smiling because he was going to be in prison for the rest of his life."

Last month, Judge Ellis Daigle found Savoie guilty of aggravated kidnapping and sentenced him to life in prison with no parole. An appeal is pending.

St. Amand took the stand and read a victim's impact statement directly to Savoie. She told him that he may have violated her body, but he did not shake her and he deserved to be in prison.

Later, Gallow and investigating Detective Dwain Grimmett would tell St. Amand that she was the best survivor and witness with whom they ever worked.

"When I was walking out, he was just grinning and acting cute the whole time. He didn't care. It made me aggravated. It made me very aggravated," St. Amand said. "I told him, 'You're going away forever and you deserve it.' I said that as I walking past him, leaving the witness stand. And he was still smirking."

Today

St. Amand still believes that people are inherently good and never lost trust in those she already knew. She kept that mindset years after the attack and even four years later, when her shop in Lafayette was robbed at gunpoint.

People at other stores ID'd the robber, and St. Amand did not realize that the man who robbed her and the man who attacked her were the same until last month.

"My theory is that he followed me from the store, because that whole week of the week that he did it, my husband was gone, so I would go to work, I would work by myself and I would come home," she said. "I don't know what it was about me that spurred an interest in him, but whatever it was, it was in his own sick mind. I never met him. I didn't do anything to him. I'm never discourteous to people."

St. Amand still lives at her West Grolee Street home, a sanctuary she refused to leave just because Savoie was there for an hour. She and her husband still are married. St. Amand has two grown children, three grandchildren and 12 step-grandchildren.

She has continued to be courteous to other people and remembers a yard worker coming to her door and telling her that a bee had stung him. No one would answer the door for him, and St. Amand knew they were afraid because of what happened to her.

St. Amand could see that the yard worker's lip was swollen from a sting, so she gave him allergy medication and a frozen ice treat.

"You can't lose your humanity because something happened to you," she said. Adding that a relative once told her that rape is worse than death, "and I thought, 'You wash that off and it's fine.' It's only if you take it inside of you -- internalize it -- that it really slows you down and stops your life. If you don't internalize it, it's only something that happened to you. It's not you. It's not."

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Tina Marie Macias,
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