DOVER, N.H. — In 1991, James Colbert strangled his estranged wife, then suffocated his three young daughters and tucked them into their beds. Police found him the next day, teetering on the edge of a bridge in Boston.
Colbert pleaded insanity at the time and laid blame for the murders on his troubled childhood.
Now he blames himself. Serving four consecutive life sentences, he is one of three convicted killers in New Hampshire appearing in a video created to discourage domestic violence before it escalates to murder.
"There was no reason for them to die," Colbert says repeatedly in the video. "If anybody should have died, it should have been me."
Since February, police in Dover have shown the 10-minute videotape to everyone arrested on domestic violence charges. So far, more than two dozen men and women have watched three killers offer this simple advice: Don't end up like us.
James Colbert was interviewed for the video last September, eight years to the week after he killed his estranged wife, Mary Jayne, and daughters--2 1/2-year-old Emily, 1 1/2-year-old Elise and 10-week-old Patricia--at their home in Concord.
In a recent telephone interview from the state prison in Concord, Colbert said he didn't remember much about the murders, but he described a series of setbacks leading to that night. He had been through a messy divorce, had lost his job and was watching his second marriage unravel fast.
"We were going through hard times. I was mentally drained, but I'm not saying those are excuses," he said. "I can't blame the booze. The booze didn't make me do what I did. I did what I did, but I don't believe I was in my right mind."
Colbert, 47, keeps photos of Mary Jayne and the girls in his cell.
"It's a reminder that there was no need of their dying," he said. "I could spend the rest of my life in prison and that's what I deserve, but they didn't deserve that."
In the video, he urges viewers to get counseling.
"Stay away from your family. Get help. Until you get help, don't go near your family. Get your head screwed on right," he says. "If you go the way I did, there's no turning back."
The video grew out of an unlikely partnership between Dover police and the U.S. Secret Service, the agency that protects presidents.
The Secret Service recently completed an intensive study of people who have assassinated or tried to assassinate public officials. The study showed that assassins don't act impulsively but rather follow a "pathway to attack," said Robert Fein, a psychologist with the agency's National Threat Assessment Center.
The same may apply to domestic-violence murders.
"We continue to learn, in the same way we in the Secret Service have learned about targeted violence, that violence is the end result of an understandable process. These attacks do not come out of the blue," Fein said.
"It's very, very rare to find someone who did not have some mixed feelings at the time and does not now have profound regrets," he said. "The goal is to hook up with that part of the person that says, 'I don't want to do this,' and then to stop before they move down that path."
All three men featured on the video tried to kill themselves after killing others, said Dover city prosecutor George Wattendorf.
"They all were very emphatic at that particular point that they feel like they could have gone down a different path if they had gotten some support," Wattendorf said.
When Joseph Glover's wife told him she wanted a divorce in April 1997, he beat her to death with a baseball bat, stabbed her and tried to slit his own throat. He says he was so angry that he didn't realize what he had done until three weeks later, when he read the police report.
"I think about my wife every day in her grave--somebody I traded marriage vows with and who gave me two beautiful children. And now she's gone because both of us couldn't get help," he says in the video.
Appearing in the video is part of Glover's mission to discourage others from following in his footsteps. He also leads an anger-management group in prison and would like to lecture in schools or make a public service commercial.
"My goal is to really get outside and try to get to people outside," he said in a telephone interview after a recent visit with his children. "I think if I could reach my own children, I could reach other children."
Glover, who is 37 and three years into his 30-year sentence, remembers April 9, 1997, beginning as a normal day. He had picked up his dry cleaning and was preparing for a weekend softball game when his wife, Jean, arrived with a restraining order. The couple had separated five weeks earlier.
"We started arguing. I had my softball bats out. . . . We started yelling. She got scared and picked a bat up. She started swinging it. She was coming toward me. I got it away from her. The next thing I know she's laying in a pool of blood," he says in the videotape.
Like Colbert, he urges those watching the tape to seek help.