Killed mother suffered a brutal life
Beatings, death of son part of her tragic past
SCOTIA Theresa Bernard faced a brutal set of hardships throughout her life, according to reports published in The Gazette.
The 59-year-old registered nurse was a victim of savage domestic abuse allegedly at the hands of three ex-husbands; beatings that would later require corrective surgery to straighten her nose after it had been broken so often. She witnessed one of her four sons struggle with heroin addiction — a battle that ultimately ended with his death from an overdose while he was under the care of the Bridge Center of Schenectady in 2010.
Bernard’s life came to a tragic end early Sunday morning after another son — 20-year-old Jeffrey Steele — allegedly stabbed her multiple times with a military-style knife in the bedroom of her North Ballston Avenue home. Steele, who was taken into custody by Scotia police as the stabbing was being reported, now stands accused of one count of second-degree murder in connection with the death of his mother.
Police Chief Pete Frisoni couldn’t say what prompted the violent attack shortly after 2 a.m. But he said there didn’t appear to be a struggle between the two before Bernard was stabbed as she lay in bed.
“We don’t know specifically what the motive was or what his reasoning was for his actions,” he said during a news conference at Village Hall on Monday.
Frisoni said a pair of diligent Scotia police officers on patrol took Steele into custody after finding him holding a bloody knife on Washington Avenue. Less than a quarter-mile away, as officers struggled with Steele, his stepfather was reporting the stabbing to 911 emergency dispatchers.
Officer Gregory Hafensteiner was riding in his cruiser when he spotted Steele ducking between a pair of parked cars near Frank & Sons Body Works. Officer Daniel Bean joined Hafensteiner to confront Steele about his suspicious behavior, only to find him covered in blood and holding a military-style knife in his right hand.
Both officers ordered him to drop the knife. But instead of complying, Frisoni said, Steele went on the defensive.
“He holds the knife in front of him and starts to back away,” Frisoni said during a news conference Monday.
Bean drew his pistol on Steele and Hafensteiner fired his Taser, sending a jolt that brought down the knife-wielding man in short order, Frisoni said.
“This is a case where officers — due to diligence and patrol — saw something that wasn’t right to them, approached someone and I’d estimate within three to five minutes after the homicide occurred, had the subject in custody,” he said.
Frisoni said the stepfather was smoking a cigarette on the rear porch at the time of the stabbing and wasn’t immediately aware of what had happened. When Steele made a hasty exit from the home, Frisoni said his stepfather became suspicious and decided to check on Bernard.
“I think he felt uneasy,” Frisoni said. “That’s when he went upstairs he discovered his wife’s body.”
Steele was arraigned in Village Court early Sunday morning and sent to the Schenectady County Jail, where he’s being held without bail. He is scheduled to reappear in Village Court on Thursday, but prosecutors will likely postpone the appearance.
“We’ll take some action before then,” said District Attorney Robert Carney, indicating the case will likely be heard by grand jury before then.
Carney also credited Scotia police for taking Steele into custody without using lethal force. He said the case was “a perfect example” of Tasers being used to safely capture a suspect.
“Tasers are not right for every case,” he said “This is exactly the kind of case that’s perfect for them.”
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Bernard was the subject of a 2002 story in The Gazette where she discussed the abuse she suffered from three ex-husbands. At the time, the mother of seven was receiving plastic surgery to correct the bridge of her nose, which was crooked from the years of beatings she endured.
“There were times I’d be in bed asleep, and he’d pull me out of bed by my hair and throw me around the room,” she recalled of her first husband, whom she married at 18. “I thought it must be my fault. Maybe the house wasn’t clean enough, or he didn’t like my cooking.”
Bernard also spoke out about her son, 29-year-old Michael Warrick, after he died of an overdose at the Bridge Center in October 2009. Warrick, who struggled with heroin addiction, had voluntarily entered the rehab facility through drug court three weeks before his overdose death from mixing prescription medication with alcohol.
Bernard filed a complaint with the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, alleging that the Bridge Center was negligent. She blasted the center for not closely monitoring her son in the days and hours leading up to his death.
“I wanted him in a locked psychiatric center rather than just Bridge Center,” she said. “It was too soon. He needed more time away from drugs.”
State officials ultimately faulted the center for not closely monitoring the erratic-behaving Warrick. The Bridge Center authored a plan of corrective action following an investigation into the death.