WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Paige Jacomet knew she was in danger before Vernon Parsells hit her the first time.
The two had spent the afternoon and evening of April 4 together, sitting outside of an abandoned farm in rural Jerauld County. Parsells was in a good mood when the evening began, but his demeanor quickly shifted as night fell.
Sitting in the back of Parsells' truck, he started to get physical with Jacomet, a longtime friend, and when he didn't stop, Jacomet bolted to the cab of the truck and locked herself inside.
"He told me he was a killer and I was his first victim," Jacomet said. "I screamed and cried and asked him why he was doing this, but he didn't stop."
Parsells unlocked the door with the vehicle's keys, dragged Jacomet out and beat her repeatedly with a silver bar in an attack the judge called "one of the worst" crimes he's seen.
Judge Jon Erickson imposed the maximum sentence of 15 years on Tuesday for aggravated assault. Parsells was also ordered to pay more than $18,000 in restitution fines.
"This is one of the most troubling cases I've dealt with, it really is," Jerauld County State's Attorney Dedrich Koch said, pointing to Parsells' long history of drug and alcohol abuse. "He has no ability to control his drug use. When he uses it's like he's a man turned monster."
But the sentence can't stop the memories seared into Jacomet's mind.
Bloodied, bruised and barefoot, Jacomet stood up and began running when she heard the truck door close. She had taken a brutal beating from Parsells, but her fight was far from over.
With branches clawing at the skin on her bare arms and snagging on her sweatpants, Jacomet fell several times, smacking her already battered face on the ground. Without her glasses, she couldn't see farther than an arm's length away, making her escape more difficult.
In a line of trees, she shed her sweatpants, stripping down to shorts and a tank top in a desperate attempt to maneuver through what felt like an endless forest. At some point, she also lost her socks.
Soon after, the headlights of Parsells' truck swept through the branches.
Eventually, Parsells left and Jacomet continued her parade through the trees, emerging to rain and a freshly-tilled field.
She walked through the field, falling multiple times, climbed over a barbed wire fence, and followed a fence line to a farmhouse, where she pounded on the door and yelled for help.
'I hardly knew who I was'
Inside the house, a woman gave Jacomet a white blanket, which was soon caked with blood and mud. She had walked for more than three hours, spanning approximately one mile, and was struggling to stay awake.
When police arrived, the first words Jacomet remembers hearing were from Jerauld County Sheriff Jason Weber, who was stunned by the scene and asked who was responsible.
"I'd never seen anybody beaten that bad — it was a shock," Weber said. "Only a monster is capable of doing something like that."
Jacomet was taken to the hospital in Wessington Springs, then flown to Sioux Falls. There, she received 30 staples to close wounds on her head, multiple stitches in her hands and was diagnosed with several broken fingers and other minor injuries.
"I remember I got up to use the restroom after about a day and I looked in the mirror and I hardly knew who I was," Jacomet said. "It finally started to make sense why people were looking at me the way they were."
Her hospital stay lasted just two days, but the recovery took much longer.
Unable to work for seven weeks, Jacomet spent many of those days in a cycle of crying, sleeping and wondering why.
Even now, if she is taken by surprise, she panics, and people have to announce themselves before entering a room she's in.
"What if he gets out?" she often asks herself.
But after Tuesday's sentencing, Jacomet shouldn't have to worry about that for a while, though it's not much comfort.
Parsells was originally charged with attempted first-degree murder, but agreed to a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon. That shrunk the maximum sentence from 25 years to 15 years.
No amount of time could ease the anger that's likely stewing inside of Parsells, Jacomet said, and she fears his rage will boil over when he's released from prison. Jacomet intends to move from Wessington Springs before he is released.
For now, Jacomet is trying her best to lead a normal life, which is made difficult every time she looks in the mirror and sees the hair she had to cut because it was too matted with blood to brush after the attack and a slight indent on the left side of her face.
"He stole 'home' away from me, the place I come to feel safe," Jacomet said. "He did kill a part of me that day and I'm still trying to figure out who the new me is."