One Woman's Courage Amid an Ordeal of Abuse

Dr. Steven Gregory Hickman will tell you he's not an abusive husband. He's even got an explanation why he tied his wife up with stereo wiring. She just wouldn't listen to him.

For my annual Mother's Day column, I wanted to write about a woman of courage. Maybe the former Mrs. Hickman can inspire others to take the same steps she did for herself and her three children--get out. . . .

Dr. Hickman already has pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-wife at their previous home in Arizona. A police officer has testified Hickman also admitted he hit his wife in a separate incident--one in which she was found wandering in the desert to escape him near Needles, with welts on her face.

Now the doctor is on trial in Santa Ana on nine felony and two misdemeanor assault-related counts. They stem from six separate incidents in which he is accused of abusing his wife here in Orange County in 1994 and 1995. The couple had lived with their three young children in Orange before moving to Flagstaff, Ariz., in early 1995.

Hickman also was arrested in Las Vegas in 1995 on suspicion of stalking his wife, after she had fled there with the children. But that case died because of his pending Arizona and California cases.

Now how's this for adding to Mrs. Hickman's nightmare: Somebody's goof allowed the doctor to go free on bail from Orange County Jail in December 1996. A rare computer error failed to record that he was not supposed to be eligible for bail.

What happened was this: Arizona had a no-bail hold on him, accusing him of a probation violation. Either Orange County Jail officials failed to note the hold or Arizona didn't file the proper paperwork. Investigators on the case say we may never know whose fault it was.

Whatever happened, it caused enormous fear for Mrs. Hickman, who was now living in yet another state. She envisioned Las Vegas all over again. Especially when Hickman skipped his next Orange County court appearance. He was arrested six months later in Northern California and brought back for trial. He has remained in Orange County Jail since then.

The jury in Dr. Hickman's case began its deliberations Friday. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

His lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Marion Wheeler, argued to the jury that there was reasonable doubt on most of the charges in part because Mrs. Hickman has recanted her allegations numerous times. (She claims her husband forced her to. And Hickman even pleaded guilty in Arizona to a charge of intimidating a witness in trying to force his wife to recant a pending assault allegation there.)

Wheeler also noted to the jury that spousal abuse cases are difficult to defend because the natural tendency is to sympathize with the woman. If you believe Mrs. Hickman's testimony, Wheeler said, "on these facts, you'd almost want to convict him."

The allegations at his present trial certainly would make almost anyone cringe. The doctor is accused of standing over his wife on their bed in 1994 and beating her with a belt as he yelled, "Now you're going to get it! Now you're going to get it!"

One charged allegation is that he slammed her head into a water heater a few weeks later. One 1995 charge involves threatening her with a loaded pistol. In another 1994 charged incident, prosecutors say Dr. Hickman rammed his car into hers as she tried to flee him. A police officer happened upon this scene; but at the time, Mrs. Hickman told him that everything was fine.

She couldn't quite bring herself, prosecutors contend, to admit a long history of abuse. Mrs. Hickman has since testified that her husband physically abused her even before their 15-year marriage began.

But it wasn't until Nov. 7, 1994, that she went to the police to report him for the first time. That followed an incident, she said, at his medical office in Garden Grove. Prosecutors say he beat her repeatedly there with the legs he pulled off a TV tray. Dr. Hickman has testified that the Garden Grove incident simply never happened. Indeed, she did later recant this incident. But prosecutors say he forced her to; that event is now part of the charges at his trial.

With the Garden Grove allegation still under investigation, Hickman moved his family to Flagstaff in January 1995. Among the current charges pending against Hickman: that after his van blew up on that Arizona trip, he became so angry he kicked his wife in the groin. She suffered the injury for two weeks. And later that same trip, prosecutors contend in another charge, he forced her to commit a sexual act against her will.

She was asked at a preliminary hearing why she committed the sex act when she didn't want to. Her response: "I was afraid of possibly getting smashed up, possibly getting dumped on the road."

Dr. Hickman denies he's abusive. Just because he pleaded guilty in Arizona, attorney Wheeler told the jury, doesn't mean he's really guilty. Hickman's explanation about Arizona from the witness stand: He tied her up only as a symbol to let her know she should never try to leave him while he's "lecturing" her.

It's difficult to picture an educated person treating a spouse this way, even the parts that Dr. Hickman admits to being true.

But Jane Shade, who heads the family violence unit at the district attorney's office, said the doctor's education is irrelevant.

"It's sad, but we get these cases from all walks of life," she said. "Abuse knows no socioeconomic boundaries."

If you wonder why I've made no mention of Mrs. Hickman's first name, she and her family have asked that it not be given. She has made a new life for herself and her children in an undisclosed city outside California. Prosecutor Shade says all of them are doing great.

Jerry Hicks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World