WASHINGTON -- Cheryl McLaughlin returned to her Northeast Washington home after work about two years ago to find candles flickering in her living room, with slips of paper under each that read: "make her stay" or "make her love me."
A year later, in summer 2012, McLaughlin got a puzzling phone call from a former neighbor. The neighbor had spotted McLaughlin's estranged husband, Raymond Bradshaw Jr., lighting paper on the grill, chanting and spreading ashes around the back yard.
Bradshaw had turned to voodoo to save his relationship and, when that didn't work, for a more sinister purpose, Washington prosecutors said. They said Bradshaw even hired a purported African voodoo priest he met online and paid that person $500 to cast a spell that would kill McLaughlin, ensuring that she didn't divorce him and seek alimony.
When the magical spells failed, prosecutors said, Bradshaw, 64, became more determined and his plan escalated. They said that sometime around the fall of 2012, Bradshaw approached his 16-year-old nephew, bought a gun and offered to pay him $2,500 to kill McLaughlin before an upcoming divorce hearing.
The nephew instead told his mother, who alerted police. In September, Bradshaw was arrested. He later pleaded guilty to one felony count of solicitation of murder. On Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge sentenced Bradshaw to four years in prison.
"He's obsessed with killing me any way he can," McLaughlin, 53, said in court. "My life has forever been changed. I've been betrayed, abused and degraded."
It was a second marriage for both. McLaughlin's first husband was killed in a car accident in 1989. Bradshaw's wife and his oldest son, who was 7, were killed in a car accident about a year earlier. McLaughlin was left to raise a young son and daughter by herself; Bradshaw was raising a 2-year-old son.
A mutual friend introduced them, and they were married in 1993. "There was love, but we weren't in love. It was more about the kids, to give them a nuclear family," McLaughlin said in an interview weeks before the sentencing Tuesday.
For more than 15 years, the couple stayed together primarily to raise the children, McLaughlin said. But the marriage began to deteriorate in 2009. Bradshaw, she said, became verbally abusive and controlling.
McLaughlin, who works as a school teacher during the day and at a Catholic church in the evenings, said Bradshaw accused her of having affairs with priests. He then began to threaten her, she said in the interview. "He would tell me he had no problem killing me and himself," she said.
McLaughlin said she was so fearful that she began attending domestic-violence workshops held by Washington police.
What cemented her fears, she said, was that Bradshaw had military training from his days with the Washington Army National Guard. Bradshaw also worked for the CIA and convinced McLaughlin that he was an agent, she said. During the hearing Tuesday, Bradshaw's public defender, David Maxted, told the judge that his client was not a trained CIA agent but instead did clerical work at the agency's offices. "He was a government bureaucrat. It's not like we're talking Jason Bourne here," Maxted argued. "He is not a danger to Ms. McLaughlin."
Once her children were grown and living on their own, McLaughlin in 2011 moved out of the home she shared with Bradshaw in the Trinidad neighborhood and got her own apartment.
"I kept believing God would intervene and there would be a conversion. But I think that was wishful thinking," she said.
Later that year, McLaughlin said, Bradshaw's sister, Joyce Christian, warned her that her brother had said he had hired someone to cast spells in an effort to kill his wife. McLaughlin said Bradshaw had "always dabbled in black magic."
"We always battled about that," she said. Once when his son was dating a girl he did not like, she said, Bradshaw went to a nearby cemetery, collected dirt from a grave site and placed it in a bag in a bid to break up the relationship.
On Tuesday, Bradshaw entered the courtroom using a cane. He apologized to his ex-wife. "Cheryl and I are a thing of the past," he said. "I accept that, and I have moved on,"
McLaughlin sat in the audience, silently wiping away tears.
Bradshaw's attorney said his client was ill and needed medical and psychiatric help, help that he did not receive before his arrest.
Calling Bradshaw a danger, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenya Davis said, "We could have been here for a homicide. It's only by grace that we are not."
D.C. Superior Court Judge Heidi Pasichow agreed. "Mr. Bradshaw has a trail of stalking, harassment and verbal abuse," she said. The judge also ordered Bradshaw to undergo mental health treatment and domestic-violence counseling while jailed.