Married to a monster: 'Life with Billy' and the story of Jane Hurshman

Published on October 17, 2009

Corner Brook -

November 20, 2007, was the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking "not guilty" verdict in Jane Hurshman's first-degree murder trial in Liverpool, N.S.

On its publication in 1986, Brian VallÉe's book "Life with Billy" publicized in detail Jane's hell-on-earth marriage to Billy Stafford. It was a story of abuse under the thumb of a violent psychopath and sexual sadist.

Republication of the book "Life with Billy" in 2008, in a special commemorative edition, brings together the subsequently published "Life after Billy," published in 1993 - a year after Jane's suicide, and "Life and Death with Billy," which combined the two previous books in a single volume.

The new edition gives the complete story of Jane's life and death.

Even though she eventually served time in prison for manslaughter, the initial verdict of "not guilty" in the murder trial of Jane Stafford (nÉe Hurshman) in 1982 was a pivotal decision that helped change Canadian law as it applies to battered women who kill their spouses.

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court ordered a new trial when the Crown successfully appealed the verdict, ruling that the evidence of Billy Stafford's brutality against Jane served only to create sympathy for the accused.

Another ruling of the appeal court rejected Jane's argument of self-defense, on the basis that her husband was asleep in his truck when she shot him - and was therefore of no immediate threat.

But these developments led in 1990 to the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling that a battered woman should be allowed to use a plea of self-defense for killing her abuser, even if an attack against her was not in progress or imminent. It also ruled that evidence of "battered wife syndrome" and evidence of the deceased's character were admissible in support of the self-defense plea.

As Brian VallÉe's account of her life makes clear, Jane Hurshman was a victim of many betrayals during her life.

Very little about "Life with Billy" makes for easy reading, and even professionals who work with victims of spousal abuse, and who are familiar with its horrors, are likely to find particular passages and descriptions difficult to absorb.

Billy Stafford brutalized not only Jane, but also their young children.

And even though Jane Hurshman's life ended tragically, it still carries a powerful message of hope - especially in light of Jane's career as an advocate on behalf of abused women.

Ask for this book at your public library.

Darrell Squires is assistant manager of Public Information and Library Resources Board, West Newfoundland-Labrador division. You can contact him at: dsquires@nlpl.ca or by phone at 634-7333.