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CROWN POINT — A criminal court judge told a man he was an “absolute menace” to his family before sentencing him to 12 years in prison for attacking his estranged wife last summer at her Gary home.

Larry G. Vickery will serve the maximum sentence allowable under his plea agreement for pepper-spraying, handcuffing and beating Jennifer Ledbetter July 6, 2017, at their home in the 4600 block of Taney Place.

Ledbetter, the defendant's now ex-wife, took the stand at Vickery's sentencing hearing Thursday.

In tears, she described her ex-husband as abusive, violent and unstable.

“I am absolutely terrified of this man,” she said.

Ledbetter said her ex-husband once held a knife to her throat and threatened to cut off her breasts.

She said in February 2017 Vickery began punching her in the head one day without warning. She said when she tried to defend herself, he punched her in the face, breaking her glasses and blackening her eye.

The next month she said he dragged her out of their son's bed and choked and punched her.

“He hit me so hard, he cracked my tooth and it fell out,” she said.

Ledbetter called authorities and Vickery was charged with two counts of domestic battery and strangulation. He was charged in a separate case with intimidation and invasion of privacy on allegations he sent Ledbetter threatening messages through social media.

He was released from jail April 10 after posting a total of $50,000 in surety bonds, court records state. 

Ledbetter said she learned after Vickery was released from jail her home's security system stopped working. She said she called her provider and learned her husband had canceled the policy.

On July 6, Vickery forced his way into the couple's home and pepper-sprayed Ledbetter in front of their 3-year-old son, court records state. He placed her in handcuffs and beat her, but she was able to escape and run to a neighbor's house. The couple's son was also pepper-sprayed, records state.

Vickery fled and later told his mother in a phone call he was going to kill Ledbetter and himself.

“I don't care, I am going out with a boom and this going to be all on television,” he said, records state. “I have it all planned out.”

Vickery turned himself in to authorities July 12, 2017. He pleaded guilty last month to criminal confinement, a Level 3 felony, in an agreement with prosecutors. 

Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Timothy Brown said Thursday Vickery had eight prior felony convictions. He was ordered to serve probation in six criminal cases, and violated that probation three times.

Brown requested the maximum 12 years in prison.

Defense attorney Steven Mullins said Vickery abused steroids and HGH for several years before the crime. He was also diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. He said Vickery's prior convictions were for property crimes, and he violated probation in past cases only by failing to pay restitution.

Vickery admitted he used fear and violence to control his wife, for which he was sorry. He disputed that he pepper-sprayed his son. He claimed his son walked into the pepper-spray while he was attacking his wife.

Judge Clarence Murray said the act was so inherently dangerous, Vickery might as well have sprayed his child directly in the eyes.

“This case has one of the most disturbing accounts of spousal abuse I have heard in a long time,” the judge said.

Murray accused Vickery of “terrorizing” his wife. Though Vickery said he wanted to maintain a relationship with his children, Murray said he believed the children did not need his presence — they needed his absence.

“You are an absolute menace to your wife and children,” he said.

Murray sentenced Vickery to 12 years in prison.

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.