It was stifling hot around 10 p.m. July 8, 1981, as Jean Rhea jogged on the University of Kansas campus.
She was an athlete, so her mind was alert, her muscles quick to respond. But she was unaware of the danger until footsteps advanced behind her.
A cool knife blade slammed against her throat as a man grabbed her and dragged her to an area cloaked by bushes and trees. With the knife to her neck, he forced her down and hissed: “Scream … and I’ll kill you!”
He raped, sodomized and beat her. He bit her. And that would be part of his undoing – evidence.
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At the time, she was a 25-year-old graduate student and coach. She used her determination and conditioning to fight back.
“I basically stopped the knife from entering my chest,” she said Monday.
Rhea, a Kansas native who left the state because of the attack, describes the crimes in a letter she is sharing as part of her effort to persuade the state to keep Sherman Galloway in prison. He had been released on parole for a 1979 aggravated battery at the time he raped her, records show.
This is the sixth time Galloway is being considered for parole, after being convicted of sex crimes. Rhea has fought his release every time. A decision is expected in April.
This time, she said, she is worried because the parole decision has been moved to the Prisoner Review Board, which is under the Kansas Department of Corrections, which houses Galloway.
Previously, the decision would have rested with the Kansas Parole Board, a separate board that was abolished last year by Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature.
Galloway, now 52, has been in prison for the past 30 years, for the attack against Rhea and an attack against another woman who, according to Rhea, was abducted from the KU campus two months before her attack.
“This is a man who kept our belongings in his home and his car, even after our assaults,” she said in the letter.
Rhea left Kansas to try to distance herself from the crimes.
“It took me many years to go back to that spot,” she said.
She grew up in south-central Kansas, where she became a champion hurdler and basketball player in high school. It has been nearly 31 years since the attack, but the emotion of it still surfaces.
Rhea’s sister began to cry Monday as she spoke about the new effort to oppose Galloway’s release. Rhea’s sister, who asked that her name not be used because of security concerns, said, “You relive the minutes. … My parents were so devastated.
“We were raised in small-town America. We trusted people. …You would never dream that somebody would hurt anybody. You were just sheltered.”
Because of the violence Rhea suffered, she immediately started to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, she said. The symptoms worsened. No one encouraged her to seek counseling immediately.
Eventually she came to see herself as like an “untreated war veteran” – an untreated victim of traumatic violence. To her, Galloway was a terrorist, someone who used violence and fear.
By July 1981, the time of the attack, Rhea was coaching women’s tennis and basketball at Baker University and was a physical education graduate student and teaching assistant at KU.
For about four years after the attack, she stayed involved in athletics, then left collegiate coaching and teaching and spent 20 years in the computer software industry, becoming an executive in business development and sales.
Rhea describes her existence after the attack as almost a double life, involving substance abuse and PTSD symptoms. Around 1987 to 1990, she started getting help for substance abuse and PTSD.
She eventually got a second master’s degree, in counseling/psychology, and now is clinical director of a large West Coast nonprofit agency that serves about 1,000 people a day who are homeless and deal with issues including violence, trauma and substance abuse.
For all of her athletic achievements, she said, the attack and the fallout are “the hardest race I ever ran.”
“It’s the hardest game I ever had to play … ” she said.
“I literally had to claw my way back to sanity.”