Nearly beaten to death by her attacker two years ago, Plover woman still angry but looking for closure
By Brandi Makuski
Jennifer Lin Nilsen sat in front of the muffin she’d purchased at a Plover coffee shop on Oct. 20, fidgeting with her long black hair.
“It took a lot to come here today,” she said, staring out the window. “I didn’t want to leave the house.”
Nilsen doesn’t leave the house very often anymore. She’s spent the past two years reliving a nightmare, covering her scars and brimming with anger- but she’s alive.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 6, 2013, Nilsen was almost beaten to death by her then-boyfriend, Jason Hyatt. In the highly-publicized incident, Hyatt’s night of violence was spelled out in detail. Court records indicated he struck Nilsen multiple times with a baseball bat, held her captive by tying her to a towel bar in the bathroom, and later to a bed, and force-fed her sleeping pills over a period of about seven hours. He also told her she wouldn’t leave the house alive.
“My phone had died, and I couldn’t find him anywhere we went,” Nilsen said. “So at one point I went home.”
The door was locked when she returned home, so she knocked, hoping she wouldn’t have to dig through her purse for the key. Hyatt answered the door and waved to the friend who dropped Nilsen off.
“He closed the door with his left hand and I immediately saw the [baseball] bat in his right,” Nilsen said. “He had been holding it there, behind the door, the whole time.”
According to Nilsen, Hyatt was angry about having to ride his bike home from the downtown square. The first strike of the bat landed in the middle of Nilsen’s back as soon as the door was closed.
“I remember trying to crawl away, but he just kept swinging,” she said. “I made it to the bathroom, thinking I could close the door and lock him out until he calmed down, but he was too close to me.”
Nilsen couldn’t recall the exact number of times Hyatt hit her with the bat, but he struck her head at least once, and later slammed her head against the bathroom wall during a hand-to-hand struggle.
“It hurt so much, but I didn’t realize how hard he’d hit me until I noticed I was bleeding,” she said. “There was blood everywhere, all over the walls. It looked like a murder scene.”
During the attack, she said, Hyatt blamed her for “making him fall in love”.
“He said I controlled his feelings; he said he couldn’t allow anyone to hurt him, which I apparently did by going out [with my friend] that night.”
The night turned even more sinister when Hyatt announced he “had to finish the job”.
“He kept saying, ‘It’s too late, I have to finish the job’. He said, ‘You understand you’re not leaving this bathroom alive, right?’ He was going to kill me,” she said. “I kept begging him to let me call my kids one last time, to say goodbye. He said there was no way he’d ever get away with this, because..I mean…there was blood everywhere. You couldn’t hide it. It was obvious something terrible happened in that bathroom.”
But something changed Hyatt’s mind.
“All of a sudden he starts handing me towels for my head because the bleeding was getting severe; it just wouldn’t stop,” she said. At this point, Nilsen said she became quiet, hoping to not upset his sudden show of concern.
Hyatt then made her a deal.
“He said, ‘OK, I will let you live, but first you need to take a long nap so I have time to get out of here; I deserve to see my mom one more time before they take me away’,” Nilsen relayed. After he tied her to a towel bar with a series of extension cords, he stuffed several prescription Ambien from Nilsen’s purse into her mouth, though she managed to spit some of the pills out. He also forced her to take an iron pill, something he thought would help counteract the loss of blood, as Nilsen is anemic.
By this time, Nilsen was in and out of consciousness, shaking and woozy from blood-loss, and had lost control of her balance and fine motor skills. She remembers Hyatt bathing her at one point and removing her bloody clothes. Using the same extension cords, he then tied her to the bed to prevent her escape and covered her with several blankets, after which Nilsen passed out.
When she awoke, Nilsen said she was able to convince Hyatt to remove the extension cords from her arms and legs, let her use the bathroom, and later, allowed her to text a friend.
“But if I tried to call the police, he would have killed me for sure before they arrived,” she said. “I’d made it this far, so I had to be careful.”
It wasn’t until Hyatt found Nilsen’s Xanax that she finally saw a way out.
“He asked me what they were for, and I told him they help with anxiety,” she said. “So he asked if he took one, if it would help him calm down. He said he felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest. I said yes.”
Hyatt’s mood had changed again, Nilsen said, to a more loving tone. After taking the Xanax, Hyatt wrapped his arms around Nilsen before falling asleep.
“He said he loved me so much and he was glad we could put all of this behind us and have another chance,” she said. “I just played along.”
Once she heard Hyatt’s snoring, she slowly left the bed and- now less woozy and more in control of her balance- she said she “ran like hell” to the neighbor’s house.
Unfortunately, calling 911 was just the beginning of a two-year battle for justice- something Nilsen said she never saw.
Hyatt was initially charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless endangering safety, kidnapping, stalking, intimidating a victim, aggravated battery, false imprisonment and bail jumping.
Almost two years to the day after the incident, Hyatt reached a deal with prosecutors, pleading no contest to second-degree recklessly endangering safety, bail jumping and false imprisonment. The charges of aggravated battery, intimidating a victim and attempted first-degree intentional homicide were dropped as a part of the deal. He returns to court for sentencing on Dec. 8.
“I’m so angry I never got to tell my story,” she said, adding she never approved the deal Hyatt was offered. “The DA kept saying I wasn’t ready to testify in court, but that wasn’t true. I was always ready. I never got a chance to testify- so I’m doing it now.”
Remarkably free of permanent physical injury, Nilsen still has scars where Hyatt struck her head. But her wounds run much deeper: she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and pseudo-dementia as a result of the attack, and has a difficult time leaving the house because of panic attacks.
She also said her four children, ranging in age from four to 13, have mixed emotions about the ordeal. Her younger children fear not only for Nilsen’s safety, but also worry about Hyatt returning.
“My son asks daily, ‘He is never coming back, right mommy?’” She said. “But my oldest son is angry at me, he blames me. But all I can do now is keep waking up every day.”
Nilsen said she’s seeing a psychiatrist to help her deal with her ongoing fear, anxiety and anger, but she plans to save at least some of that anger to fuel the motivation behind a project she’s considering.
“You see ‘Blue lives matter’, ‘Black lives matter’, all this stuff…well, women’s lives matter. What about that? I hear about too many women going through this kind of thing, and the guy always seems to get away with it, just like Jason is,” she said, adding she’s thinking about creating some kind of support group for women in similar situations, but hasn’t decided what form the group would take.
She said services offered by local groups and organizations haven’t been much of a comfort for her, and wonders how many others feel the same.
For the time being, Nilsen is looking forward to another semester of online classes, where she’s learning to become an advocate for victims and witnesses of domestic abuse. That goal is the only good thing to have come from the attack, she said.
Nilsen said she and Hyatt dated for about eight months, and for at least some of that time he was behind bars for drunk driving and related offenses. The October incident wasn’t the first- or even the second- time Hyatt attacked her.
“I just kept thinking he was going to change,” Nilsen said. “But it’s like being an addict; you have to want to change. I didn’t for the longest time, I didn’t think I deserved a good guy who will treat me nice. Now I’m changing, now I want better.”