By MADELINE BUCKLEY - Follow me @Mabuckley88
South Bend Tribune
10:18 PM EDT, August 22, 2012
SOUTH BEND -- Traci Winston can still see the strangulation marks on her sister's neck -- black and blue, just below the ears.
Trina Winston sought help from her sister several months ago after she said her husband, Tarrence Lee, placed a bag over her head, strangling her until she passed out, Traci Winston said.
Her sister regained consciousness and clawed at the bag until it came off her face. She had lost control of her bodily functions, Traci Winston said.
The woman wiped off her legs, and ran for her life, Traci Winston said.
The Winston sisters filed a report with Mishawaka police, and Trina stayed at a women's shelter.
She survived the encounter with her husband then, but Trina's sisters and cousin clutched each other for support at a kitchen table Wednesday evening, as the woman is now presumed to be slain by her husband.
"He should have never crossed paths with my sister again," Traci Winston said Thursday, alternating between anger and bowing her head in tears while she told of her sister's abusive relationship that ultimately resulted in murder charges.
Traci Winston, her older sister Sheila Redding and a cousin, Darena Taylor, formed a circle around the table of Redding's South Bend home, asking how a man with a violent past was allowed back on the streets. Lee is a convicted murderer.
The youngest of four, Trina Winston has a third sister, Cecelia Winston, who is hospitalized for a nervous breakdown.
St. Joseph County prosecutors charged Lee, 49, with his wife's murder on Monday after the man's friends told police last week that he asked for their help in disposing the body.
The friends told officers Lee said he had the body in his living room at his apartment at 4228 Hickory Road in Mishawaka.
Lee, his brother and a friend then got rid of the body outside of the county, according to court documents.
Investigators have yet to find a body, though the search has extended into Illinois.
The charging documents indicate an abusive past, but say Trina Winston did not want to follow through with pressing charges against her husband, whom she was in the process of divorcing.
"I called them for my sister. They never picked him up," Traci Winston said, crying that she wished police did more to protect her sister. "The law has to change," she added.
The man has a violent history, as he has served time for two murder charges and an attempted murder charge for a 1986 double homicide, reportedly over drugs.
Lee was sentenced to two terms of 40 years for the slayings to be served concurrently. He served about 20 years and was released on parole in 2008.
"Why was he released?" Traci Winston asked. "The prosecutors are supposed to protect us."
Redding said Lee was working as a pastor, and had known her sister since high school.
The family last heard from Trina Winston early last week. Redding said Lee picked her up from a friend's house Aug. 15.
Fearful of Lee, her friend begged the woman to stay.
"He was crying, 'Please don't go with Tarrence, please don't go,'" Redding said.
The St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit arrested Lee this weekend.
Taylor said her brother had recently asked Lee why he was with Trina Winston. He replied she was the only one who stood by him after prison.
"That was the kind of person she was," Taylor said.
Yet angry at a justice system that paroled Lee, Taylor and the woman's sisters said he should never have had the chance to get close to her.
"This is a nightmare we are living in," Redding said.
The worst part, she said, is not knowing exactly what happened, as investigators have not yet located a body.
"We want her to walk down the street," Redding said, as they are still hoping Trina Winston is alive.
The family is holding a vigil tonight for the woman in front of the St. Joseph County Courthouse at 6.
Redding said they will wear white and carry white balloons to pray for Trina.
Her family wants to send a message to women involved in an abusive relationship: "Get out, get away, tell somebody," Traci Winston, herself a domestic violence survivor, said.
Redding said she is hoping desperately to learn the truth soon.
"Tarrence, Tarrence, you said you once loved her, tell us where she is," Redding cried in her kitchen, holding onto her sister's hand.
Lee was arraigned for the murder charge Tuesday and is scheduled for an initial hearing next Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Staff writer Madeline Buckley:
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