Jeannie Capps Wooten said she began shouting and praying Monday when she read that Nathan Tyler would spend the rest of his life in prison for killing Alicia Deans.
“I was running up and down the hall, praising and yelling,” she said. “I knew I would finally be safe.”
Tyler was convicted of first degree murder, armed robbery and kidnapping Monday after a week-long trial in Columbus County Superior Court.
Wooten fled to South Carolina, then Alabama after her violent marriage to Tyler from 1991 through 1995. Tyler’s natural father was killed in a fishing accident when he was a small child, Wooten said.
Tyler and Wooten dated for a year before getting married. When the violence started, she said, “I felt like it was my own fault.
“I thought there was no way out,” she said. “That was the way I was brought up – you made your bed, you lie in it.”
She said she was regularly beaten, threatened, taunted and abused by Tyler, even when she was pregnant.
“I had three miscarriages,” she said. “I lost my twins at eight months because he beat me. They were stillborn. You don’t forget that.”
The couple had two children together – Matthew, and Nathan Elisha Tyler III, known as Elisha. Elisha Tyler was originally suspected in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Alicia Deans, but was cleared of any wrongdoing during the investigation. Deans was lured from Leland to Tyler’s home in Clarendon by Kayla Turner on the promise that Elisha wanted to resume their romantic relationship.
Both boys were also victims of Tyler’s dangerous temper, Wooten said.
Not a toy
The family lived near Whiteville. Elisha was three and Matthew just over a year old when their father slammed the younger child into his crib, breaking the piece of furniture.
“Matthew was having an asthma attack,” she said, “and I wanted to take him to the doctor. Nathan said it cost too much, and he just threw him into the crib.”
Matthew spent two weeks in the hospital after that incident, Wooten said.
Tyler regularly threatened Wooten with killing the boys, pointing a gun at them or severely hitting them for no apparent reason.
Drugs and alcohol usually played a role in the beatings, Wooten said. Before Matthew was born, she said, Tyler brought several friends home one night.
“They had all been drinking and partying,” she said.
Wooten said she was hiding in a back bedroom with the toddler when Tyler and his friends attacked her. They tied her to the bed and repeatedly raped her, she said. Elisha was handed a loaded, cocked revolver and Tyler “told him to point it at me.
“I kept Elisha distracted by telling him it wasn’t really a toy, and he needed to be careful and put it down,” Wooten said.
In a halting voice, Wooten said that Tyler eventually tore her bonds off and threw the naked, bleeding woman and the boy out the door into the night. Wooten sought help at a neighbor’s home and still went back to Tyler.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. Charges were never filed in the incident.
Wooten tried to shield the boys from as much of the violence as possible, but after Matthew was born, Tyler began focusing more and more of his attention on the boys. Wooten knew she had to do something.
After Matthew came home from the hospital, she said, Tyler began beating the boys. During one particularly vicious attack in March 1995, “my mama bear came out,” Wooten said.
“I knocked him out with my iron skillet, grabbed my boys and we ran,” she said.
This time, Wooten said, she filed assault and domestic violence charges against Tyler. While he was in jail, she fled to live with family in South Carolina.
When Tyler got out on bond, however, he somehow found where the family was living.
“I came home one day, and Elisha ran on in the house,” she said. “I was getting Matthew out of the car seat when I heard Elisha screaming.”
Wooten ran to the house, and said she discovered her estranged husband holding Elisha by the hair, with a gun to his head.
“He said he was going to kill all of us, starting with the boys,” Wooten said.
The woman said she doesn’t remember exactly what happened, but when she “came to,” she had both boys in her lap, and was holding Tyler at gunpoint. Relatives and law enforcement were on the way, and Tyler continued threatening her and the boys.
“He made a break for the door, right as my uncle and his uncle pulled up, in different vehicles,” she said. “He jumped into the car with his uncle and escaped.”
Tyler was later arrested and again posted bond. Wooten said she moved yet again, this time to her grandmother’s house. Tyler managed to sneak onto the property one night while Wooten and the boys were away from home. Her grandmother was home alone.
“She was watching TV one night, and heard someone kicking at the door,” Wooten said. “She grabbed her .410 shotgun and pointed it at the door, and said “Nathan, if that’s you, I’m going to shoot. I’m going to blow you away!’ He told her he had come back for me and the boys, and he was going to take us back and kill us.”
Wooten’s grandmother opened fire, Wooten said.
“I think she shot four times through the door, and he started running,” Wooten said. Tyler was eventually detained by Wooten’s uncle after he ran into a clothesline.
Tyler went to prison after that arrest, and Wooten moved even farther away, settling in Alabama. Wooten said she raised her boys in church and kept a firm hand on them, but both they began getting in trouble. Tyler’s mother asked for visitation rights, which Wooten begrudgingly allowed, with one condition.
“Elisha was not to spend any time around his daddy,” Wooten said.
As her older son began getting into trouble, Wooten said, she discovered the reason via the mother of one of his classmates. The school friend had told her mother that Elisha was getting letters from his father and grandmother.
“I found out later she was taking him to visit him in prison, then when he got out, he was spending time at Nathan’s house. He could do anything he wanted to up there. Like any boy, he adored his daddy.”
As the problems became worse – including a term or two in juvenile criminal detention – Elisha began physically fighting with his mother, cursing her and saying he wanted to live with his father.
After one particularly violent encounter when Elisha was 15, Wooten said, she gave up. The boy was using drugs and was in trouble with the law and at school.
”I called his grandmother and told her if they wanted him so bad, they had eight hours or I was going to let him go back to juvie,” Wooten said.
A week after Elisha moved back with his grandmother, Wooten said she made one of the hardest choices in her life.
“She called me, and wanted to bring Elisha back,” Wooten said. “I told her no – he was going to stay there.”
The young man has since reconciled with his mother, Wooten said.
“I prayed and prayed that it would work out,” she said, “and it did. They both realized the road they could be on if they stayed around that man.”
Wooten said both brothers told her Tyler bragged about other crimes, threatened them, and forced them to shoplift.
“He made them steal little things,” she said, “stupid things, but he said he would kill them if they didn’t. He told them he had killed before, and gotten away with it. They were just kids, and they wanted to please their daddy.”
“Elisha understands now,” Wooten said. “He’s changed.”
Wooten said she suffered from depression and nightmares for years, and had multiple heart attacks. A cancer survivor, she said she has been able to relax since Tyler was arrested, and feels like a weight has been lifted with his conviction.
“I have prayed more and more in the past week that God would never let that man get out of jail,” she said. “I just feel so bad for the family of that poor girl. I’m thankful the court has worked right and taken care of Nathan. He should never see the light of day again.”
Wooten said she wants other women to learn from her experience. She regularly speaks to cancer patients as well as women who have survived domestic abuse. She said she doesn’t want anyone to go through what she did.
“There is help out there,” Wooten said. “You don’t have to let someone beat on you or your children. Get some help. Tell somebody. You can wind up dead or worse if you don’t stand up and help yourself.”