Investigation Discovery’s ‘Evil Lives Here: The Monster Inside Him’ follows how Vernetta Cockerham suffered from a terrible tragedy and yet took strength from it to fight for domestic abuse victims everywhere. It is an inspiring tale of a mother who lost her only daughter, Candice Cockerham, and fought the city and the system to make it better for other victims. So who is this Vernetta Cockerham? Let’s find out.
Who is Vernetta Cockerham?
Vernetta Cockerham was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1969. She was the youngest of 3 girl siblings and they were all raised by their paternal grandmother, Marie Edmonds, from an early age since their parents could not provide a stable home. When the sisters were old enough to attend school, they moved to the small town of Jonesville in North Carolina with Marie, a trained nurse at a local nursing home. Marie raised her grandchildren in a conservative manner, taking them to church on Sundays and cooking them canned vegetables.
It was Marie who had taught Vernetta to stand up for herself and fight – a lesson that was so properly instilled within her that she would go on to fight the system and change it. Upon turning 14, Vernetta shifted to Newark, New Jersey in a bid to know her mother, and then to Paterson where she lived with her father and attended high school. Just the summer before her sophomore year, Vernetta, a math tutor, had Kevin Baker, a linebacker, as her student. Both had a whirlwind romance that ended in her getting pregnant mid-way through the school year.
Vernetta, then 15, gave birth to Candice in Jonesville, moved back to Paterson, and married Kevin, then 18. It was Kevin’s sister’s erstwhile boyfriend, Richard Ellerbee, who informed Vernetta that Kevin was cheating on her. Grateful to Richard, who was 13 years senior to her, Vernetta divorced Kevin as Richard became one of her close confidants. She finished school and started working in the records room of the Paterson Police Department. When Candice turned 6, the mother-son moved to Jonesville, where she juggled 2 jobs as she raised her daughter.
In 1993, Richard came to Jonesville in search of a job and started dating Vernetta, then 24. Though she never wanted any children after having complications during Candice’s birth, she found herself impregnated with Richard’s first son Rashieq in 1995. After she gave was pregnant with their second son, Dominiq, in 2001, Richard forced her to marry him against her wishes in December 2001. By then, Vernetta had started to see the true colors of Richard who had serious anger management issues.
As Vernetta became a subject to daily domestic abuse at home, she had Richard arrested on July 4, 2002, on charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon. However, Richard soon came out on bail and the abuse continued. She made repeated complaints to the police and had him detained multiple times, even taking out a restraining order, but Richard remained undeterred. He continued to stalk her, harass her, and even broke into her home, leaving threatening notes and digging shallow graves across her home to frighten her.
Vernetta continued to file complaints and did everything according to the law but Richard was never arrested for long. All the violence and harassment ultimately culminated in Richard beating and killing Candice and stabbing Vernetta to near death on November 12, 2002, before self-immolating 3 days later.
Where is Vernetta Cockerham Today?
Vernetta’s wounds took a long time to heal but she was up on her feet and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jonesville and two police officers in November 2004. It took 5 years of legal battle but in June 2009, she reached a settlement with the city council and was awarded a sum of $430,000. She said, “It took a long time, but this was well worth the wait for the people that it’s going to help. The strengthening of domestic violence laws is happening right now, and I love being involved. I’m hoping to be able to implement services and changes in Yadkin county; that’s what the settlement means to me.”
Vernetta continues to advocate for domestic abuse victims through the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition’s executive director, Rita Anita Linger said, “… what really impressed me about Vernetta is that she immediately went into advocacy mode, being a support to other victims and looking for the systemic gaps and how we can fix them.” Vernetta has pushed a bill in the Senate that advocates for the arrest of those who defy restraining orders and continues to assist victims of domestic and sexual crimes.