Living Columns & Blogs

‘She was one of ours’: Women’s Resource Center director reflects on Natalya Podnebennaya murder

There were only seven of us in the courtroom. Somehow, I had expected the room to be full. I arrived early, thinking it would be hard to find a seat, as the court personnel worked to get ready for the trial and the people selected for the jury wandered in. It was disconcerting to have only seven spectators in the courtroom for a murder trial.

Homicide doesn’t happen often in Centre County, but within the past 18 months there have been three. Two have been the result of domestic violence. This particular trial, that of Vladimir Podnebennyy, had particular meaning for those of us who work at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. Natalya, the woman murdered by her husband, was staying at the Sylvia Stein Shelter at the time of her death. She was one of ours.

While every domestic violence homicide elicits strong feelings among the staff, volunteers and board of the CCWRC, this one was especially painful. Our staff had worked closely with Natalya as she began to build her new life, a life free of violence, free of control. For the first time in many years, perhaps for the first time in 40 years, Natalya was in a safe place, able to sleep at night, feeling free. Her story was, until the time of her death, a success story — an immigrant from Russia, who learned to speak English, got a good job and was finding her place. The trial of her murderer surely merited more than seven people in the courtroom.

Odd as it seems, this was the first time I’d sat through an entire murder trial. Often when there has been a domestic violence homicide, in the cases of Jody Warshaw Barone or Traci Raymond Miscavish, for example, there is no trial because a suicide followed the murder. And in my almost 20 years as the director of the CCWRC, this was the first time a murder victim had been living in the shelter at the time of her death. As I watched this trial, I was impressed by the passion of the attorneys (for both sides), by the level of detail and the thoughtful thoroughness of the law enforcement officials who responded and investigated this murder, by the even handedness of the judge and by the attentiveness of those Centre Countians serving on the jury. It was an interesting and thought-provoking process.

And I hope it is an experience I never repeat. The loss of Natalya — mother and grandmother, friend and colleague — and the loss of all those who have been victims of domestic violence homicide is too much, too painful, too wrong. We at the CCWRC will continue to work with our law enforcement and justice system partners to prevent domestic violence homicide and to stop domestic violence before it starts. And we are not alone. Every time anyone stops to remember someone who has died as a result of domestic violence — Natalya, Nuria, Amy, Jody, Traci and others — we rededicate ourselves to ending this scourge on our community. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and a good time to remember those who have lost their lives to domestic violence, to honor those who have survived and to reflect on how we can as a community work to end domestic violence. While there may only have been seven of us in the courtroom, there are many more of us who will remember and who will work to end domestic violence in Centre County.

Anne K. Ard is the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, 140 W. Nittany Ave., State College. Contact her at 238-7066 or at