Jendusa-Nicolai leads push for Marsy’s Law

By Cathy Kozlowicz


It was Jan. 31, 2004, and Town of Waterford resident Teri Jendusa-Nicolai was by estimates about an hour away from death.

When she came to pick up her girls, ages 4 and 6, from her ex-husband, David Larsen, she was invited into his house. Larsen said her kids were hiding and wanted her to find them.

The next thing she remembers was … clunk!

Teri Jendusa-Nicolai

When she came to, she was lying on the floor and saw a baseball bat with Larsen on top of her. He proceeded to whack her on the head several times, she said. He then put duct tape on her mouth, taped her hands and legs together, put her in a Rubbermaid garbage can filled with snow.

By then, her pants were off, she did not have socks or shoes on, and it was painfully, bitterly cold. He took her to a storage unit he had rented near the airport where he worked in Illinois and put her in the storage unit while still in the garbage can and locked the door.

He left her for dead.

This occurred on the three-year anniversary of when she divorced her physically and emotionally abusive husband.

As harrowing as that experience was, it has motivated Jendusa-Nikolai to advocate for victims’ rights.

She said it has “led me to this life of service.”

Victims’ rights advocate

She is now doing legislative and advocacy work, in addition to her responsibilities as Town Board Supervisor for the Town of Waterford. Her newest work is being state chairman of Marsy’s Law, a victim’s rights initiative she is working to get passed as a state constitutional amendment.

Jendusa-Nicolai said the goal of Marsy’s Law is to give victims constitutional rights. She said victims currently have statutory rights while the criminals’ rights are protected in the constitution.

“Constitutional rights are more guaranteed,” she said. She said they cannot be taken away easily, as can happen with statutory rights, she said.

“Victims should, too, have the same rights,” she said.

She said Marsy’s Law is an amendment to the state constitution and that it has to pass to a legislative board twice.

“It passed the first time, and it did not the second time because they did not have time in the agenda,” she said.

This initiative is sponsored by State Senators Van Wanggaard, R-Racine and Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee and State Representatives Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville and David Crowley, D-Milwaukee.

With more than 50 listed co-sponsors – both Republicans and Democrats – the bill was approved in January by committees in the state Senate and Assembly. It is just waiting a second approval before it can be voted on for the spring 2020 election.

Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is named after Marsy Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her death, Marsy’s parents were in a grocery store and confronted by the accused murderer, who had been released on bail. Her brother made it his life’s focus to provide victims and their families with constitutional protections.

Speaking out

While she now lobbies for Marsy’s Law, Jendusa-Nicolai has been speaking out for victims since shortly after her attempted homicide. She has been speaking at colleges, high schools, churches and other groups across the country.

“I tell them to always have a cell phone in their pocket, not in their purse,” she said. Because when she was first hit on the head by her ex-husband, she was able to get her phone to call 911.

But when the rescue squads came to her house, her ex-husband was already transporting her, and they missed them. The medics, however, thought maybe someone was not breathing at his house, so they came in a saw blood.

Authorities questioned Larsen for 15 hours. One of the investigators thought it was unusual for him to have a storage unit rental business card in his wallet. When police entered the storage unit, the found Jendusa-Nikolai pleading for help. She had been there for 21 hours.

“I was relieved, but then thought it was him coming back,” she said.

She barely remembers the ride to the hospital but when she was in ICU and conscious, her first question was, “Where are my girls?” Luckily, she said, her daughters were with Jendusa-Nicolai’s sister and were safe

“He planned this. Everything was planned,” she said.

She said her current husband, who she described as the exact opposite of her ex-husband, wanted to come with her to pick up her daughters the night she was attacked, but Jendusa-Nicolai said no so as to not anger her ex-husband further.

She was in ICU for six weeks, needed several surgeries and was in a wheelchair because her feet had suffered severe frostbite.

A new life

In fall of that year, she was asked by a church to speak about her experience. She has now told her story thousands of times, was featured on the television program Three Days to Live March 5, 2017.

Jendusa-Nicolai married Larsen in 1996 and their divorce was finalized in 2001. She said she attempted to leave him on several occasions.

In an effort to keep her from leaving he told her that kids from broken homes commit suicide.

“He was extremely controlling, and said he was the man of the house. He did not allow her to work, to have credit cards in her name and everything was escalating,” she explained.

It was when he was screaming at her, and he told her two-year old daughter to shut up, she called her brother and left him for good.

But even while in prison Larsen has shown continued animosity. Jendusa-Nicolai said Larsen has told other inmates who were being released to look her up and kill her.

“I don’t feel more scared. I feel more protected,” she said.

She said her life now is good. She found she is good at the advocacy work. She likes it so much she decided to run for town supervisor. She is now in her second term.

“I am letting people know they have a voice. The more people who know there is support out there, the more who will come to get help. I have literally met thousands of people,” she said. “Don’t ever feel hopeless in a hard situation. There is a better life out there. You have the power and the ability to change your life.”