Dateline   |  April 20, 2012

Day of Reckoning', Part 1

Bernadette and Brian Sugrim meet and fall in love as teenagers. Then, Bernadette says, Brian shares a disturbing secret with her. She marries him anyway. NBC News' Amy Robach reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> welcome to "dateline," everyone, i'm lester holt . imagine living in fear right under your own roof. the woman at the center of tonight's story could be any wife and mom, and she was in danger. telling the truth could set her free, but it could also cost her her life. an impossible choice until she saw the surprising bravery of her young daughter. here is amy robach .

>> bernadette sugrim is a pretty woman who has some very ugly secrets.

>> made it perfectly clear if i ever said anything, he would kill me.

>> if she kept quiet, she would live in fear forever.

>> i question myself now that i look back. like why couldn't you have done something.

>> the secret, she says, helped bind her to a killer. it would take strength and courage to break free, but could she do it.

>> i was afraid not only for my ldren's and i was afraid for my entire family.

>> the whole remarkable story, with all its twists and turns begins here on the hills and dairy farms of new york state where bernadette grew up. it was 1995 . she was 17. what were your hopes and your dreams back then?

>> my real dream was just to get married and ab good wife and have kids.

>> and her dream was about to come true.

>> it was during the summer. brian just walked out of the woods with a backpack on his shoulder.

>> his name was brian sugrim. he was 19, just out of the army.

>> i was infatuated.

>> head over heels .

>> head over heels . this handsome guy, really smart, intelligent. he really liked me, thinks i'm beautiful. i had never gotten that attention before.

>> they dated for nearly a year, lovers and confidantes until one day brian shared a disturbing secret.

>> he came to me one day and said i did something really bad, such a terrible person. e me? can you ever forgive me? i killed somebody.

>> she says brian told her he killed a man in the basement of his parents' house.

>> did you ever ask him why he killed this man or any of the circumstances surrounding it so you could understand it?

>> not at that moment. i knew he said he did something. it didn't really register in my head. i made it so it really just didn't exist. i wanted the happily ever after. i wanted to love somebody , and i wanted to be loved. and that's what he gave me.

>> the next year, brian gave her a ring. they married and began a family. daughter sky came along first.

>> he was very affectionate, loving. always made her feel good, daddy's little girl . they had their own communication. i'm the dragon, you're the baby dragon.

>> in 2000 the trio packed up and moved to kalamazoo, michigan, she work as a bank teller , he taught boxing to kids.

>> he was this intelligent, capable person that is my husband. i'm very proud of this. he's helping people. he gave them confidence.

>> everything seemed to be going well as they prepared for a second child.

>> that was a happy time for us.

>> but things changed when brian learned his brother christopher had been killed in a motorcycle accident back in new york.

>> how did brian react to his brother's death?

>> brian was devastated.

>> did he ever talk to you about how he was feeling?

>> i think he felt guilty.

>> the couple later named their son chris after him. still, brian struggled with his grief over his brother.

>> he actually said it a couple why did he have to die. he was the good one. i'm the evil one.

>> he said that?

>> yeah. i think he felt a lot of guilt over his brother dying so young and him being such a good person, and him struggling with this evil, this bad side of him.

>> is that really when things took a turn for the worse?

>> absolutely. he started staying out all hours of the night. he started drinking very heavily at that point.

>> she says he began using drugs, cocaine and methamphetamine. his behavior turned more and more violent towards her and the children.

>> what would happen?

>> he would blow up. he would pick something up and throw it across the room and make sure it missed us by like that much.

>> then she said his threats became truly fright think.

>> i remember waking up in the middle of the night with a rifle pointed to my head saying, wake up, wake up, you [ bleep ]. get out of bed right now. i was terrified. i thought he was going to kill me.

>> it all made her think about that secret brian had told her years before and what it meant.

>> is it surreal now thinking how was that not a massive warning sign, talk about a red flag .

>> i look back now, and i was like why didn't you just walk away then.

>> but she didn't. she had no idea of the terror her husband had in store for her next.

>>> when we come back, bernadette 's husband has another secret. this one is just as deadly.

>> you do not tell anybody. if you ever do, i will kill you.

>> when day of reckoning continues.