For most of her testimony, D.C. Magistrate Judge Janet Albert had stayed composed. Appearing in D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday in the criminal trial of her former girlfriend, Albert steadily recounted the suicide threats, the barrage of furious phone messages and e-mails, and the first break-in, often using dry, lawyerly words like “de-escalate” to capture her point. But asked by the prosecutor to describe the details of the day she found Taylar Nuevelle passed out inside her attic, Albert finally paused and pressed her hands to eyes, as if trying to hold back tears. Then, after a few beats passed, she went on.
It was the second day of trial for Nuevelle, who prosecutors accuse of breaking into Albert’s Washington home in an attempt to stalk and harass her in 2008.
Among the witnesses, a D.C. police detective testified that he discovered Nuevelle on Sept. 13, 2008, passed out in Albert’s attic, with pills, a bottle of wine, a computer, and a bucket turned makeshift toilet nearby. But most of the afternoon’s action was dominated by Albert’s testimony, and the portrait she gave of her emotional and often tortured relationship to the defendant.
Albert, who serves as a magistrate on the D.C. Superior Court, testified that she met Nuevelle in May 2007 at a church retreat. In August, they began what Albert described as a “very volatile relationship.” There were screaming fights that lasted until 1 a.m., during which Nuevelle would nearly faint. Albert said she tried to end the relationship a number of times, but always backed off out of “anxiety and fear.” And meanwhile, Nuevelle became attached.
“She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom,” Albert said. “She wanted another child. She wanted to get pregnant, and she had this idea that she would be able to do that.”
On Sept. 10, 2008, Albert said, she attempted to break off the relationship once more during a dinner out. Again, she couldn’t do it. The next day, she called Nuevelle about meeting for a final talk. According to Albert, Nuvelle then called back, screaming.
Over the next several hours that night, Nuevelle would call Albert 139 times, prosecutors said. There were frantic text messages and e-mails as well. Albert decided to take her nine-year-old son and spend the night at a friend’s house in Virginia. There were more texts from Nuevelle, saying she was going to Albert’s house to pick up some belongings (Albert said the two of them never lived together, and that Nuevelle still had her own apartment). Later, Nuevelle texted that she had arrived, that she was on the porch and that neighbors could hear her.
When Albert returned home early in the morning before work, she found Nuevelle in the house. According to Albert, Nuevelle said she had climbed in through an unlocked window. After a confrontation in which Nuevelle threatened to publish an unsent letter Albert had written to a former lover, she left the house.
Rather than call the police, Albert said she decided to contact their minister. In retrospect, it was a mistake, she said. But she was convinced at the time it was the best way to handle the situation.
“I firmly believed that if I took steps to resolve it using a minister, instead of police, it would do two things,” Albert explained. “One, that it would de-escalate the situation instead of escalating it, and two, it would be a sign of good faith that I wasn’t trying to harm her, that I just wanted to be left alone.”
The drama continued throughout the day. Nuevelle continued her calls and messages, at one point telling Albert that she was drinking alcohol while taking pills. Albert called two of Nuevelle’s friends, but Nuevelle allegedly denied to them that she was endangering herself. There were more suicide threats, including a message that she was drinking and taking anti-depressants she had stolen from Albert’s home. Albert forwarded that message to their minister, still hoping she might be able to help. Then the messages stopped.
That night, Albert said, she lay awake again, wondering whether Nuevelle had killed herself or gotten help.
“It was horrible,” Albert said. “It was the worst thing I ever went through.”
On the following day, Sept. 13, there were more messages from Nuevelle, Albert said. But they gave her little comfort. While taking her son to a birthday party, she discovered another suicidal message on her phone. In this one, Nuevelle said she was in a dark place, taking Buspar, Oxycodone and anti-nausea pills. Albert forwarded it to their minister again. A friend of Nuevelle’s called, looking for her.
At that point in the story, prosecutors halted their examination of Albert. Her testimony continues on Wednesday.