KEARNEY, Neb. — He was violent and controlling, his wife wrote in court documents, and he tried to kill himself once.
Nancy Petersen was describing her then-husband Michael L. Petersen, who now stands accused of killing her and his former lawyer.
The couple, who had lived in Elm Creek, Neb., separated Dec. 26, 2001. Two days later Nancy Petersen filed for a protection order against her husband.
In her application, she said that during the previous six years her husband had thrown her against the house, shoved her into walls and corners and bruised her arms by forcibly holding her.
“Mike must control me,” Nancy Petersen wrote in the Dec. 28, 2001, protection order request. “He uses intimidation and belittles me to destroy my self-esteem.”
Michael Petersen, 58, of Glenvil, was being held Friday at the Hall County Jail without bail in the shooting death of his ex-wife south of Kearney. Her body was found Thursday. Petersen will be formally charged with that crime next week, authorities say.
Petersen already has been charged with first-degree murder in the Wednesday shooting death of his former divorce lawyer, Todd Elsbernd, 52, of Grand Island. Elsbernd was shot twice outside his law office.
Michael and Nancy Petersen were married May 24, 1980, in Amherst, Neb., where Nancy grew up, according to Buffalo County court records.
Nancy's relatives knew about her turbulent relationship with her ex-husband, said Doug Daake Sr., Nancy's cousin.
“We didn't know how bad the abuse was,” said Karen Daake, Doug's wife. “We didn't know if the abuse was verbal, physical or both. All I understood was it was an abusive relationship.”
On the protection order application, Nancy Petersen indicated that the weapons Michael Petersen had access to mostly were rifles.
On Dec. 30, 2001, Michael Petersen attempted suicide in the garage of their Elm Creek home and was hospitalized for several months. During that time, Nancy Petersen found notes on guns that said, “Please use this for your own personal protection.”
She wrote that she also found on his desk other notes about things she had done to make him angry.
“Since his attempted suicide Dec. 30, he is still trying to control me from his hospital bed. I fear for my life and the life of our son. If we wouldn't have got out of the house on Dec. 26, (the son) and I might have been in that garage with him,” she wrote of the suicide attempt.
Nancy Petersen wrote that the couple's son, now an adult, had witnessed much of Michael Petersen's verbal abuse.
On Jan. 17, 2002, Nancy Petersen filed for divorce. In an April 2002 protection order application, she said Michael's behavior had escalated.
“Mike has been very mentally and verbally abusive. He threatened to kill my brother and his wife and two daughters if they had anything to do with me,” she wrote. “Because of his mental status, I fear for my life and the life of our son.”
The Petersens' divorce went to trial in March 2004, with Elsbernd representing Michael Petersen. A settlement was reached, and Michael Petersen filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.
He later filed new-trial motions with the Nebraska Court of Appeals, then with the Nebraska Supreme Court. Both motions were denied.
The divorce case was closed in 2005, with the exception of the couple making appropriate payments to each other.
In the Petersens' dissolution of marriage decree, Buffalo County District Court Judge John Icenogle wrote that Michael Petersen was emotionally unstable when he was confronted with divorce.
“It also appears that his behaviors were erratic prior to his suicide attempt in that he tended to be easily angered,” Icenogle wrote.
In the decree, Icenogle ordered Michael Petersen and his son to be either supervised during visitations, or that visitations should be denied until Michael Petersen and his son could participate in joint counseling.
In February 2009, Michael Petersen sued Elsbernd for $57,359, alleging legal malpractice. However, the statute of limitations had expired, and the case was dismissed.
Doug Daake Sr. said he worked with Michael Petersen years ago at Eaton Corp. in Kearney, making vehicle engine valves. Petersen worked in the tool room, he said.
Nancy Petersen, who was 58 when she was killed, spent more than 31 years working as a material handler at Baldwin Filters in Kearney.
Karen Daake worked with her in the 1970s and 1980s. She remembers walking into the warehouse and seeing Nancy driving a forklift.
“Back then it was rare to see a woman driving the forklifts,” Karen said. “Nancy was a tough woman.”
Most recently, Nancy had worked at the Subway on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. She quit in September.
Nancy Petersen had become a grandmother for the second time in October and couldn't have been prouder, said her cousin, Joe Maul of Kearney.
“That's all she talked about. She would go on and on about them,” Maul said.
Nancy Petersen moved in August from Elm Creek to her home on Long Island Road south of Kearney, where she lived by herself.
It was a big move, she said on Facebook, because she had lived in Elm Creek for 28 years. Maul said she loved animals and had three dogs and two cats.
“She was the type who would meet you with a hug,” Karen Daake said. “She was a ray of sunshine.”
World-Herald staff writer Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.