Happiness is ‘a choice we can make,’ says Prairie Village woman attacked and left for dead in 2010

Marti Hill wore a butterfly necklace and spoke from notes written on a butterfly shaped notecard during her presentation at JCCC Wednesday.
Marti Hill wore a butterfly necklace and spoke from notes written on a butterfly shaped notecard during her presentation at JCCC Wednesday.

The years since Prairie Village resident Marti Hill was left for dead at the bottom of her basement stairs have not been easy.

There was the physical recovery, of course: Months of slow and painful rehab that couldn’t erase some reminders of the damage done, like an echoing in her ear that remains to this day.

But the larger struggle was learning how to function in day-to-day life again. How to relate to people. How to make sense of it all.

Brian Pennington, the Missouri handyman she had hired to repair some plaster on her ceiling, had been recommended by her mother after he’d fixed a similar problem at her house. Pennington had a wife and two kids. Hill’s mother had met them. He’d made no suspicious advances toward her while fixing her ceiling. If anything, he’d seemed too nice — too charming, too willing to help — during their interactions. There were no red flags.

But it was Pennington who wrapped his hands around Hill’s neck the morning of Sept. 8, 2010, having shown up unexpectedly at her home early that morning claiming he had something he wanted to show her in her basement that needed fixing. When he left, Hill was clinging to life, beaten so badly that the Prairie Village police officer who found her couldn’t immediately tell what race she was or whether she was a man or a woman.

Pennington, currently in the Hutchinson Correctional Facility sentenced to 28 years in prison for attempted murder, was just 26 at the time of the attack.

“The ‘Why? why? why?’ always comes back,” Hill said before a crowd in the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College Wednesday, giving her first major public talk on the attack. “How does somebody get to be 26, that young age, and that violent?”

But, said Hill, healing from the attack has been a transformational and growing experience, as well. On stage, Hill wore a butterfly necklace and spoke from notes written on a butterfly-shaped card, reminders of a saying that has helped her process her own transformation the past four and a half years.

“When the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly,” she said.

Indeed, in the years since the attack, life has moved on. Hill’s daughter is now in college in San Diego. Hill has recently started a new job. And as a sense of normalcy slowly returns, she now believes that she is responsible for choosing to see the world in a positive light.

“The attack is hard to understand. It was unfair, cruel. But, you know, basically I’m responsible for myself. I have to strive to get somewhere so I’m not a victim,” she said. “I think we need to choose to be happy. It’s a choice we can make.”

Prairie Village Police Capt. Wes Lovett was joined in the audience by detectives who worked the case, and said Hill’s strength and demeanor continued to be an inspiration.

“Seeing her up there today, it doesn’t surprise us at all,” Lovett said. “You could tell she had a fighting spirit from the beginning.”

Pennington has appealed his conviction to the Kansas Supreme Court.