It's hard for most people to believe that a boxer known for knocking out 32 of 49 opponents could be the victim of domestic violence, but that is what Christy Salters-Martin lived to tell a jury and "48 Hours" contributor David Begnaud. Her husband tried to kill her, she says, but she refused to die. "I told him, 'You cannot kill me,' and I meant it. Just like the sun came up this morning, I meant it."
"Christy Martin - The Fight of Her Life" is reported by Begnaud in an all-new "48 Hours" airing Saturday, November 14 at 10/9c on CBS.
Christy Salters-Martin says she is an advocate for women in abusive relationships because of what she survived. On November 23, 2010, after 19 years of marriage, Christy says she was sitting on her bed putting on her running shoes when her husband, Jim Martin, entered the bedroom armed with a knife and gun.
About an hour later, Christy managed to flag down a stranger on her street in Apopka, Florida, who rushed her to a nearby emergency room. Christy had been stabbed four times in the chest, her left lung was punctured, her left leg was cut to the bone, and there was a bullet lodged three inches from her heart.
She says she was able to get up off the floor and escape when Jim decided to take a shower. "I would love to see the look on his face when he got out of the shower, came back to the room and I was gone."
While doctors worked to save Christy's life, Jim Martin disappeared. Police found him seven days later not far from the crime scene. Martin, who still had the knife used to stab Christy, declared himself innocent. He said he was the victim of a vicious attack by his wife and ran in fear to a neighbor's shed, where he says he slipped in and out of consciousness until just before police dogs found him.
In his first television interview, Martin's defense attorney Bill Hancock tells Begnaud that his client was a loving and devoted husband who would never have attacked his wife. "There is not convincing evidence in this case, beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Martin intended to kill Christy," he says.
Orange County prosecutors Ryan Vescio and Deborah Barra disagree. They believe Jim was the heavyweight in the marriage and that he turned a champion boxer into an abused wife. Vescio describes Martin as manipulative, cruel and controlling: "Jim's control and abuse led to psychological abuse, physical abuse. … He started to provide her with controlled substances and … put Christy in a very compromised position to where she had to rely on Jim or else her career would be over."
Christy Salters met Jim Martin when she was just 22 and he was 47. She was a rarity — a promising female boxer. He was a well-regarded coach and, while Martin didn't believe that women belonged in the boxing ring, he agreed to train the young phenom. Christy says Jim saw dollar signs. "He thought … 'It'll be a sideshow, but I think I can get her in a position where we can make some money,'" she tells Begnaud.
As the two grew closer, the relationship turned romantic. A year later, they were married, but according to Christy, it was more business partnership than love story. She also says it was a way to finally please her parents, who had spent years trying to turn her into someone she is not.
Christy was in the fifth or sixth grade when she says she realized she was a lesbian. "Did you confide in anyone?" asks Begnaud. "No," says Christy, not until she met high school sweetheart Sherry Lusk. Christy tried to keep her dating life a secret, but her parents eventually found out and their disapproval pushed her from the family home. Jim Martin knew all of that and more, and Christy says he used it to control her. "He would always say, 'I'm gonna tell the world you're a lesbian.' And for whatever reason, you know, I just wasn't strong enough in me to say, 'Go ahead.' I know that people think that I should be strong and tough and all those things. But … I didn't have that same type of mental strength to overtake him." Christy says she lived in fear of her husband's threats to expose or kill her if she ever left him, so she stayed. Just days before the attack, knowing it would cause a life-or-death battle, Christy says she finally told Jim she was leaving him for her high school sweetheart, Sherry.
"I think it's a remarkable story because you have a world-famous champion boxer and she could still be in a domestic violence relationship," says prosecutor Deborah Barra. "Because that isn't about physical strength. It's about mental abuse."
Barra and Vescio say they fully expected Jim Martin to plead not guilty by reason of self-defense. At the time of the attack, Jim Martin was 66 years old and had recently had heart surgery. Christy was 42 and training for a big comeback fight. Pleading self-defense against a professional boxer was Martin's best shot at winning, says Vescio. A jury might believe that Christy was the bigger threat — one that had required excessive force.
In his interview with Ryan Vescio, David Begnaud set the stage for the trial that the prosecutor calls the most memorable of his career: "Christy was the boxer. Jim was the opponent. The jury was the audience. And the judge was the referee." Vescio responded: "And what was the most interesting thing was, Christy had always talked about she wanted to win 50 fights in her life. Well, Christy won 49 professional boxing matches in her career. That courtroom was the 50th fight."
Christy sees it differently, "Finally, I have been able to come to terms with, I got the 50th win, when I got up off the floor November 23, 2010, and got out of my house. That was my 50th win."
If you or someone you know needs help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has counselors available around the clock:at 1-800-799-7233 [SAFE].