Tri-Cities man marries two women; wife pushes for change in biga - CBS 5 - KPHO

Tri-Cities man marries two women; wife pushes for change in bigamy laws

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Scott Testerman Scott Testerman
SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL) -

February 11th, 1993 was the day Gerri Testerman's world changed forever.

"It was a good day," the Bristol woman recalled. "It was a great day. We were in love. We were getting ready to spend the rest of our live together."

In front of her friends and family she tied the knot with the love of her life. The venue, interestingly enough, was the McDonalds on Volunteer Parkway; the place where she worked.

The groom was Scott Testerman, the man of her dreams.

"He was kind and sensitive," Testerman said.

21 years later, Testerman is now dealing with the sad reality that their love story didn't end happily ever after. In fact, it didn't even come close.

"It was devastating," she said of the moment when things changed. "I couldn't sleep, I hardly ate, I lost like 30 pounds. I guess there were signs there, I just didn't see them."

Testerman says for two decades her marriage was about as normal as they come. Her husband treated her daughter like his own and they all lived a happy life. Then she says something changed. She says Scott started going fishing a lot, working extra hours and coming home late. Eventually, she says he stopped coming home altogether.

"I knew when he didn't come home Friday night that was it," Testerman said.

For the longest time, she thought her husband just left her. Only recently, did she find out the truth and it's far worse.

"It made me feel like I had been taken for a ride for 20 years," she said.

On October 11th, 2013 her husband married someone else, a woman by the name of Sherrie.

"It was very humiliating, very heartbreaking," Testerman said. "I didn't go to church for weeks, because I was so ashamed to face the people. I thought everybody knew what happened."

Court documents allege to this day Scott is still married to two women: Gerri and Sherrie. Marriage certificates back up the bigamy claim.

"It is bizarre," she said. "The same day of the month, the names being so similar."

After discovering the news, Testerman filed a police report with the Washington County Sheriff's Office. The district attorney's office has since issued a criminal summons for a misdemeanor charge of bigamy. Scott Testerman appeared in court Monday on the charge. A judge set his trial for September 4th. If convicted, he could spend up to a year in jail and face a fine. Testerman's attorney told us the man would not be commenting about the case.

Although bigamy is a crime in Tennessee, the district attorneys in the region's two largest counties say a bigamy criminal case is rare. According to 2nd Judicial District Attorney General Barry Staubus, his office has only had one bigamy case dating back to 2006. He says that 2013 case ended in a guilty plea. First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark says the Testerman case is the only one in he can recall in recent memory.

However, just because it's rarely prosecuted doesn't mean it's not happening.

"It happens and it happens with some regularity," Johnson City attorney Douglas Carter said.

Carter says he encounters bigamy allegations about once or twice a year in the divorce cases he handles.

"That's one of those things that lawyers beat the other side over the head with it," he said.

Bigamy is grounds for divorce in Tennessee, so the claim can help or hurt a divorce case depending on which side Carter's representing. At the moment, the attorney says there's very little anyone can do to prevent the act, aside from honesty on the front end.

"You have to be responsible, because you're the one that knows what your status was and if you don't do that, then you're committing a fraud, not only on the State of Tennessee, but also on your new spouse and that's a heck of a way to start a marriage," Carter said.

As it stands, $105, a Social Security card, driver's license and a couple of signatures will get you a marriage certificate in Tennessee, according to Washington County Clerk Kathy Storey.

"They are swearing that the information they are giving is true," she said.

By law, Storey says clerks across the state have to take applicants at their word.

"We have to in good faith accept that the information they are giving us is true," Storey said.

Storey says they can't be skeptical of a person's past and seldom can they even turn anyone away.

"We don't have the authority to question that," she said. "There are two reasons why we could refuse a license and that would be if we think that they are drunk or if they are mentally incapacitated."

In recent years, the Tennessee Legislature has strengthened Tennessee's bigamy law, but after talking with us, Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) wonders if the state needs to do more.

"It's worth looking at," Sen. Crowe said. "Even if there are just a few (victims), that's really, really sad for the people involved, the innocent people involved."

A centralized database, which could help track marriages and divorces and prevent bigamy, is a possible solution he says he's willing to ask about. He says people in other parts of the country have pushed for that.

"I'll check and see if there's a way of getting something organized nationwide so that we can at least have a database," Sen. Crowe said. "It could be an interesting proposition."

Testerman thinks a database is the answer.

"If it could just help one family not have to go through this then it would have been all worth something," she said of her experience.

As for her situation, documents reveal she and her husband signed their divorce papers in May. She says that divorce should be final soon. With that, she is moving on.

"I've started seeing someone," she said.

That said, she's in no hurry.

"I still am married, so according to God, one man, one woman together at a time, so I need to wait until I'm divorced," Testerman said.

Perhaps even more impressive, she's giving her husband and his other wife her blessing.

"I think they should be able to work it out and have a happy life," Testerman said.

Our attempts to speak with Testerman's new wife so far have been unsuccessful.

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