On Sept. 28, 2017, Christopher Grover pointed a gun at his partner and the mother of his two children, Nikki Addimando, and told her that he was going to kill her and then shoot himself.
“And then,” he said, “your kids will have no one.”
It wasn’t the first time he had threatened her. But it would be the last, as Addimando managed to grab the gun and fired a bullet into the skull of the Poughkeepsie man who had allegedly routinely beaten and degraded her for six years. She even told a therapist that Grover had filmed himself raping and torturing her, then uploaded the video to the sex site Pornhub.
Now, speaking from the Westchester jail where she is serving a 7 & 1/2-year sentence — reduced from 19 years — for second-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm, Addimando said that she asks “myself every day” how else she should have reacted under the circumstances.
“If I could go back in time, I still don’t know in that moment — what I could have done,” she said. “And it happened so fast. I mean, do you know what I should’ve done? Because I’ve been searching for the answer.”
Her thought-provoking question was posed to journalist Justine van der Leun, who spent hours visiting Addimando at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the prison portrayed in the fictional TV series “Orange Is The New Black.” She recorded multiple interviews with Addimando for a new six-part podcast, “Believe Her.”
In addition to looking closely at the case and Addimando’s trial, the series features the women who have mobilized to call for her clemency.
Nearly 573,000 people have signed a Change.org petition with the hashtag #FreeNikki and tens of thousands of dollars have been contributed to fund legal expenses and the welfare of Ben and Faye, her 8-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
Supporters have organized rallies and other events, often local to Poughkeepsie, like fun runs, art shows and a themed benefit night. There’s even #FreeNikki merchandise including hoodies, T-shirts and yoga mats.
Many campaigners, such as Linsey Gatto, a 40-year-old mother from Beacon, are first-time activists.
“I was appalled [by her sentence] The thought of her being away from her kids … just broke my heart,” Gatto, an influencer who says she is typical of the “regular” women challenging Nikki’s incarceration, told The Post.
Like Gatto, Larissa Vreeland has never met Addimando, but she has mobilized hundreds of women by posting on Facebook groups aimed at moms. Her child is friends with Addimando’s daughter, Faye, who, along with her brother, now lives with relatives.
“If I had a message for Nikki, I’d tell her we all love her,” said Vreeland, a 36-year-old gift shop owner from Salisbury, Conn. “As members of her support group, we always say that we’ll fight for her until the sun comes up. We’re not going anywhere until she is home.”
“I had so much empathy for her when I learned that she wasn’t safe even after Chris was gone,” Gatto added.
According to Addimando’s advocates, she was not only the victim of Grover, but also an American judicial system that van der Leun believes “criminalizes survivors.”
The podcaster said the bias at Dutchess County Court ranged from Judge Edward McLoughlin (who presided over the 2019 trial) labeling Addimando a “broken woman,” to Chana Krauss, the assistant district attorney, slut-shaming her by suggesting she was a willing participant in “rough” sex who faked her internal injuries or inflicted them on herself.
Her therapist, Sarah Caprioli, testified that, when Addimando was pregnant with Faye, Grover repeatedly burned her vagina with a scorching spoon heated over the stove. Medical experts including a midwife and nurse — whom Addimando had asked at the hospital to document her wounds in case she left Grover and needed evidence for a child custody battle — said under oath that they had seen severe swelling and burns on her genital area.
Other witnesses, including Elizabeth Clifton, Addimando’s friend and confidant, said they’d seen bruises, black eyes and strangulation marks around her neck. Caprioli reported finding a Pornhub video of a man who exactly matched Grover’s appearance raping a bound and gagged Addimando, and the screenshots she took were displayed in the courtroom.
But the judge declared that gym worker Grover, the licensed owner of the pistol that killed him, didn’t fit the “profile” of an abuser. Addimando was found guilty of second-degree murder.
Van der Leun maintained that “people in positions of power” such as McLoughlin, detectives and the prosecution team questioned why, if this behavior was ongoing, Addimando didn’t just leave.
At her sentencing, Addimando said, “I wish more than anything that this ended another way. If it had, I wouldn’t be in this courtroom. But I wouldn’t be alive either. This is why women don’t leave. They so often end up dead or where I’m standing — alive, but not free.”
“It’s relatable to many women,” van der Leun said, adding that skepticism by authorities “speaks to the bigger issue of what an abuse survivor is required to do in order to be believed.”
In one of her 2020 jail interviews used in the podcast, Addimando theorized that it would have taken her own murder to prove she was telling the truth about Grover’s violence.
“It [dying] is probably the only way I would have been believed,” she said.
In July, the Supreme Court Appellate Court reduced Addimando’s sentence to 7 & 1/2 years under the Domestic Violence Survivors Act. Her allies celebrated, but were disappointed that the conviction still stands.
Music teacher Clifton, 46, whose house in Poughkeepsie occasionally provided a refuge for Addimando, told The Post she and other friends “just want her home.”
“It’s been so painful for Nikki not to be with her kids as they’ve grown up in their most tender years,” she added.
The plan now is to file paperwork with Gov. Hochul in a bid for clemency.
“Most of all, I want Nikki to heal and be with her children again,” van der Leun said. “But I know that, in time, she wants to advocate for women who could also be helped by the same people who stand behind her. I can see her coming into her own voice.”
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