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Sabrina Bloodworth, 47, who police say is the victim of two domestic violence cases this year, is left to wonder what happened Sept. 27, the night officers shot and killed her boyfriend.

Resources for domestic violence victims:

Partnership for Families, Children & Adults (Chattanooga): 423-755-2700 (Provides shelter)

Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center (Dalton, Ga.): 706-278-5586 (Provides shelter)

Family Crisis Center of Walker, Dade, Catoosa, & Chattooga Counties: 706-375-7630 (24-hour emergency hotline)

ROSSVILLE, Ga. — Between the morning that the judge let him walk away and the night the police shot him, Christopher Andrew Shell changed.

Sabrina Bloodworth, his girlfriend of 10 years, said Shell talked about his own death after his first domestic violence charges were dropped, about an ending he expected to arrive soon. He showed Bloodworth his tools, told her the price of each hammer and drill. He seemed sick, but she can't explain why.

"When I die," she remembers him saying, "sell these. Support yourself."

Then, on Sept. 27, Bloodworth ran across Cochran Drive to her cousin's house, away from Shell. Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson says Bloodworth reported her boyfriend beat her so severely that at one point she lost consciousness. Bruises and cuts flecked her face.

A deputy and a sergeant arrived at the house. Shell stayed inside. The deputy saw him through the window, Wilson said, holding a .50-caliber muzzleloader. Eight more officers came for backup. Some called out for Shell, but he remained inside for almost an hour.

Finally Shell walked onto the front porch, holding his rifle. Wilson said Shell lifted the gun in a "threatening manner," and officers fired, killing him. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the case.

A week after the shooting, Bloodworth stood on that same front porch. She pointed out bullet holes on the walkway to the house, on the front step to the porch, on the right side of the house, in a living room wall and in the bathtub. The splintered front door has been replaced.

Bloodworth, 47, said she doesn't remember what happened before the shooting that night because she suffered a concussion. She doesn't believe Shell attacked her, though. He was bigger than her. If he tried to hurt her, she figures, he would have killed her.

"He didn't hit me," she said.

"He didn't hit me," she said again.

'There's nothing."

This is the second time this year Bloodworth recanted on a domestic violence accusation against Shell. Experts say her reversals are common among victims and show the challenges of investigating and prosecuting cases like these. Often, the victim is the only witness. If that witness won't testify, convicting a batterer is difficult.

Victims recant for many reasons. They are love their abusers. They don't want to cause the person who hurt them to go to jail. They fear violent retribution for testifying, or believe the batterer's punishment won't be serious enough to protect them. Or they blame themselves, thinking they provoke the attacks.

Instead of a criminal conviction ending with jail time and an attempt at rehabilitation, the relationship continues, often escalating to more severe violence or even death for the victim or the attacker.

But, domestic violence experts say, criminal cases don't always need to hinge on the victim's willingness to testify. Prosecutors can work around the challenge, if they are creative.

"Sometimes that is incredibly difficult," said Joan Prittie, the co-author of the Georgia Domestic Violence Benchbook for judges. "There may not be enough evidence. We feel like many times there is."

The first incident between Bloodworth and Shell occurred March 28. A Walker County sheriff's investigator wrote in an incident report that he was called to Hutcheson Medical Center and found Bloodworth in the emergency room, her right eye bloody and swollen shut. Doctors were stitching a cut that ran from Bloodworth's cheek, through her eyebrow, to the top of her nose.

She told the investigator Shell had been drinking and got angry when they argued about a video game. He smashed a beer can against her face.

When the investigator drove from the hospital to 25 Cochran Drive, according to his incident report, Shell walked outside with his hands in the air. The report said Shell admitted to hitting Bloodworth because she was being "hateful." The investigator arrested him on a charge of battery, a misdemeanor.

Six months later, on Sept. 21, Bloodworth and Shell appeared in Walker County State Court. Bloodworth said she told Judge Billy Mullinax she wanted the case dropped. She said the version of events in the incident report is not accurate.

On that night, she said, Shell was on the front porch, arguing with a man on their lawn. Bloodworth said she was in the family room, about 10 feet behind Shell. She said her boyfriend tried to throw his beer can at the man on the lawn.

Somehow, Shell flung the can behind him and it hit Bloodworth. She said said Shell was sick about accidentally hurting her. Mullinax agreed to drop the case.

Pat Clements, solicitor of Walker County State Court, doesn't remember whether he or his backup prosecutor were in court when Bloodworth asked the charge be dropped. He said the solicitor decides whether to pursue the case, regardless of the victim's participation.

"But if the victim goes before the judge and requests they be dismissed," Clements said, "a lot of times they are."

Clements said he has no formal training on prosecuting domestic violence cases. But he's been doing the job for 30 years and can tell whether the victim legitimately wants to drop the charges.

"You know just from talking to them what the circumstances are," he said. "You know if she's been threatened. You get a thousand of these a year. You know what's going on."

Clements said he also reviews the incident reports before making his decision, adding: "I don't know what you'd call it. After dealing with it for so long, you learn, or hopefully learn, how to tell what's going on."

Prittie, the executive director of Project Safe, a domestic violence nonprofit based in Athens, Ga., couldn't discuss specifics of a case she has not reviewed. But generally speaking, she said, prosecutors can pursue different angles to convict a domestic violence suspect without the victim's participation.

In Georgia, she said, prosecutors can call victims to the stand and ask them if they want to testify against their partners. When victims say no or that they don't remember what happened, prosecutors can introduce other evidence, such as the victim's initial statements, crime scene photos and medical records, to help with a conviction.

A prosecutor also can introduce the defendant's prior history. But in this case, there was no prior history. Bloodworth said Shell never hit her. And court searches in Catoosa, Dade, Hamilton and Walker counties showed no prior violent offenses for Shell.

Bloodworth said she loved him from the time she met him, 10 years ago, when he built a porch for her grandmother. He was 6 feet, 4 inches tall, blonde, broad and tan. He was handy around the house but also shopped with her at estate sales and flea markets. They watched action movies at night and traveled to Daytona, Fla., every summer to walk on compact sand and watch NASCAR races.

On Mother's Day, he planted two rosebushes for her.

"He took care of me," she said. "He provided for me. He protected me. He stood up for me. I never met a man like him."

On the night of the shooting, she said, she sat on the side of the road at the end of the block. She couldn't see, didn't know what was happening.

Then, she heard a series of gunshots. She remembers that sound, if nothing else.

"Over and over and over," she said. "It didn't stop.

"It's going on in my head."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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