Kidnapping of Louisiana mom foiled by gut instinct of off-duty sheriff’s deputy
Schanda Handley was at her home in the suburban neighborhood of Lafayette, Louisiana, with her daughter, Isabella, when the doorbell rang around 2:30 p.m. on August 6, 2017.
Two men, posing as deliverymen, forced themselves in with guns. “They started to scream … to ‘get the F on the floor,’ and ‘don’t move,'” Handley told “48 Hours” contributor David Begnaud in her first television interview.
The two men handcuffed Handley and threw her into the back of a van.
“I’m hooded. They hooded me as soon as I went into the van. It was a van that didn’t have the windows in the back. And it was just a rubber mat without seats back there, and — laid me on the floor,” she said.
Handley said one of the abductors was straddling her in the back of the vehicle, forcing pills into her mouth, and holding a gun to her head, while the other erratically drove them out of town. She recounted beginning to lose consciousness, as she says the men threatened to sexually assault and then kill her.
“And I started praying,” said Handley.
Then she heard the sirens.
RESCUE OF A LIFETIME
Isabella Cumberland: I didn’t know what was going on with my mom. There was no one really telling me what was happening.
KLFY REPORT: “Police say the woman was forcefully removed from her home in Lafayette …”
With her childhood home now a crime scene and her mother Schanda Handley just abducted by armed intruders, Isabella Cumberland found herself confused amidst a crowd of investigators and forensic analysts.
Isabella Cumberland: They wanted to go over the fingerprints on the doors, upstairs, my phone. And it just kinda felt like I was another piece of evidence.
Isabella, then just 14 years old, was trying to process the sight of the violent kidnapping she had just witnessed at her family’s home.
David Begnaud: As they’re driving away with her, did you think that was the last time you’d ever see her?
Isabella Cumberland: I thought there was a chance.
Lafayette investigators and Isabella had no idea that about an hour after the kidnapping, just across the state near Baton Rouge, Chad Martin, an Iberville Parish sheriff’s deputy, had pulled over a suspicious white van after a brief pursuit. There were two men inside.
They got stuck in the mud. So, the men jumped out and took off running. They jumped into the Intercoastal Waterway and disappeared.
And when Martin went to investigate that vehicle, he discovered Schanda Handley, handcuffed and naked in the back.
Deputy Chad Martin: She looked at me and I’ll never forget this, she said, “Are you the real police? Are you the one that’s gonna kill me?”
Schanda Handley: And he was like, “You’re safe. You’re safe.”
Just minutes before, Martin was rushing home for Sunday dinner in his squad car after clocking out, unaware of Schanda’s kidnapping nearly 60 miles away. His biggest worry at that time? His wife’s wrath.
David Begnaud: I heard you were habitually late for dinners.
Deputy Chad Martin: I had a tendency — to be late for everything.
Now, he had unwittingly made the rescue of a lifetime.
David Begnaud: What’s going through your head? I mean, you were just tryin’ to pull over a couple of guys who looked a little suspicious.
Deputy Chad Martin: I can’t really tell you what was goin’ through my head. Almost like I went into, like, robot mode. … I was just tryin’ to get this woman help.
Schanda told him a harrowing story: that the kidnappers had drugged her and threatened to rape her and kill her.
David Begnaud: If not for Chad Martin —
Schanda Handley: Oh. I would be dead. … I can’t even imagine, but I know it wasn’t gonna be quick and swift.
Martin relayed the news of Schanda’s rescue to dispatch, and it soon reached Isabella.
Isabella Cumberland: Whenever they told me that she was safe … I felt this relief.
Deputy Chad Martin: She had said that — she believed that her husband is the one that had paid them to kill her.
Her estranged husband, Michael Handley. Schanda says that before the difficult months leading up to the kidnapping, Michael would have been the last person she could’ve imagined would harm her. They had met in 2005 through friends in Lafayette, at a time when both were single parents and emerging from failed marriages.
Schanda Handley: He … was … really catering and just sweet and compassionate.
Another thing they had in common — both were in recovery for addiction.
Schanda Handley: At that time, I had been sober for about … 18 years.
David Begnaud: Oh. Wow.
Schanda Handley: Michael was newly clean and sober. … He had about a year.
The new couple hit it off, and a year later they were married in Hawaii. Isabella took an immediate liking to Michael.
Isabella Cumberland: He — well, was my dad from when I was 2 years old … And so that’s how I saw him, was really as my dad.
In 2007, Michael and Schanda found success channeling their experience in recovery into a new business, partnering with a doctor to start a chain of addiction treatment centers.
Schanda Handley: So, we wound up … opening at one point, I think, there were 14 centers throughout the south.
Eight years later, they made a decision.
Schanda Handley: We sold the company.
David Begnaud: How much did y’all make on the sale?
Schanda Handley: The two of them, Michael and his partner, we sold the company for $21.5 million.
David Begnaud: Wow.
Schanda Handley: Yeah.
But their life as happy millionaires didn’t last long say prosecutors Donald Knecht and Kenny Hebert.
Kenny Hebert: You know, money and free time with someone with … an addictive personality isn’t a great combination.
Schanda was seeing that firsthand with Michael in 2017, less than two years after the sale of their company, when she found a bottle of Adderall with Michael Handley’s name on it.
Schanda Handley: So, what we believed at our treatment center was that use of something like that amphetamine could open the doors to a world of trouble. So, when I found the bottle, … it terrified me. … And I can remember telling him, “This could lead to death. This could lead to something devastating.”
And soon things got even worse when Schanda discovered that Michael was seeing another woman.
Schanda Handley: He was having an affair. … And all I could think was, like, “I don’t even know who this man is.”
Schanda issued an ultimatum: Michael had to go into treatment, but when he refused to get help, she made a difficult decision.
Schanda Handley: I change the locks, and Michael was locked outta the house. And he started to lose his mind at that point … and so after a coupla weeks, he said, “You’re gonna regret this.” And then that turned into, “I’m telling you, it’s gonna get bad.”
The Handleys’ life together was falling apart fast. Michael accused Schanda of assaulting him; she was charged, but later acquitted by a judge. All while Schanda was begging the authorities to see that she was the one in danger.
Schanda Handley: If Michael wasn’t apprehended, he was going to kill me.
LIVING IN FEAR
As Schanda Handley was recovering in the hospital, investigators were learning the details of her tumultuous past with Michael Handley. They knew they had to find him and the kidnappers fast. They started scouring the canal – the last place her abductors had been seen.
Kenny Hebert: There was a fisherman … And … he reported these two individuals wading by him in the water … And one of ’em pointed a gun at him and said, “Be cool.”
But as the kidnappers had been swimming towards freedom, the canal’s unforgiving current had other plans.
Kenny Hebert: They found them floating in the Intracoastal Canal, drowned.
David Begnaud: Dead?
Kenny Hebert: Dead.
They were later identified as Sylvester Bracey and Arsenio Haynes.
David Begnaud: What did you think when you found out they were dead?
Schanda Handley: I thought … “I’m not gonna have to worry about them hurting me,” as sad as that is.
While investigators suspected Michael Handley was responsible for the abduction, proving it might have been difficult with their main witnesses — the kidnappers — dead. But, Handley, it seemed, had made it kind of easy for them.
Kenny Hebert: Detectives were running the VIN number on the white van … That VIN number leads them to an Enterprise dealership in Baton Rouge. … They said, “Well, a few days ago, an individual named Lawrence Michael Handley came in a rented the van.”
Kenny Hebert: And then a couple days before that, he went to Barney’s Police Depot, which was a store … that carries specifically police-issue merchandise.
Handley was seen on store surveillance cameras as he pulls up, and purchases handcuffs. Finding evidence allegedly connecting Handley to the kidnapping wasn’t difficult but finding him turned out to be the challenge.
Schanda Handley: I’m asking if Michael’s been apprehended. And they said, “No.” And so, they said, “We need to, like, lay low for a little while.”
With a fortune at his fingertips, investigators feared he could be anywhere and a danger to Schanda once she was released from the hospital. So, they came up with a plan of action.
Sid Hebert: We decided on a safe house outside of Lafayette
Sid Hebert, a former Louisiana sheriff, was part of the security detail watching Schanda 24/7.
Sid Hebert: We had a Lafayette Sheriff’s deputy in a marked unit on premises. … No visitors, no … package deliveries, nothing until further notice.
Even in hiding, Schanda was feeling relief that Michael was finally being recognized as a threat after living in constant fear prior to the kidnapping.
Schanda Handley: The terror that I was in for those three months… the kidnapping was nothing in comparison … The kidnapping was a blessing.
David Begnaud: What?
Schanda Handley: The kidnapping is what allowed me to get to a place where people were willing to support me.
David Begnaud: In the beginning, how many people believed Schanda?
Christine Mire: Not many.
But Schanda had found a fierce ally in Christine Mire, her divorce attorney. Mire knew all too well what Schanda had experienced.
Christine Mire: The most dangerous case I have ever heard about, let alone been a part of.
David Begnaud: What made it so dangerous?
Christine Mire: Michael Handley. … He was constantly stalking her, telling her that he knew where she was, threatening her, threatening her daughter with harm.
Schanda called the police several times, but felt she wasn’t taken seriously. Mire helped Shanda secure a restraining order, but says Michael found creative ways to make it effectively worthless.
Christine Mire: He disguised his voice, he also used an app that picked up dummy numbers that he used to contact her. … So, there was no proof that it was him that was actually violating the protective order.
And he seemed to be tracking Schanda’s every move.
Sid Hebert: He was able to spy on her through her own laptop computers. … her alarm system. … he compromised all of that. … nothing was out of bounds.
Michael’s behavior was growing increasingly erratic. Even though he was the one to initially file for divorce in the spring of 2017, he soon changed his mind and Schanda says now he was demanding they reconcile, or she’d pay a humiliating price.
Schanda Handley: He says, “Some of our private videos are gonna go out to people in the community.”
David Begnaud: Intimate videos?
Schanda Handley: Intimate videos.
Schanda struggled over this but knew she couldn’t take him back.
Schanda Handley: So, videos went out to hundreds of people in the community. … My cousins, uncles … administration at the school, political friends, neighbors. … I sat and cried and was sick to my stomach … I almost didn’t stand up.
Just when Schanda thought she couldn’t take any more, on June 8, 2017 — almost two months to the day before the kidnapping — Michael Handley slipped into her house through the garage.
Schanda Handley: He was enraged. He reeked of alcohol. He was — he was furious … And he had me pinned up against the wall. And … I screamed, “Isabella.” Well, he put his hand over my mouth, and he pulled out a gun, a 9mm.
David Begnaud: A gun?
Schanda Handley: He pulls out a handgun. … And — and he said, “If you scream or anybody comes to interfere, I will shoot you both. I will kill you both. Do you understand me?”
Schanda says that after hours saying anything she could think of to calm him down, she finally convinced Michael to leave.
Schanda Handley: As soon as he walked out of that gate, I ran in the house, bolted the door … And I started screaming and crying.
Schanda Handley: When Michael left that day after he had attacked me, I was 100% positive he was going to kill me.
Police were called once again, but they didn’t arrest Michael Handley.
David Begnaud: I can see in your eyes that you’re getting emotional.
Schanda Handley: Oh … I felt as though I was being told … that I was lying and that I was making it up.
Christine Mire: This is why women don’t report abuse. Because they fear they will not be believed
David Begnaud: How many times had Schanda filed a report against Michael?
Kenny Hebert: I believe that the … actual reports filed were a couple dozen, if not more. As far as how many times was there an arrest made, there wasn’t.
David Begnaud: Why?
Kenny Hebert: A lotta times he was out of state. Sometimes the investigators felt like they didn’t have enough evidence to actually go forward and get a warrant for the arrest.
After the kidnapping, investigators were confident that this time they had more than enough evidence to make an arrest. But could they find him in time?
Kenny Hebert: So, somehow, Michael is able to track Schanda down to the place that she’s seeking refuge.
A DAMNING DISCOVERY
David Begnaud: Does Michael Handley know that the cops are onto him?
Kenny Hebert: Yes. … because at some point he tried to … charter a private plane … And so, the pilot essentially said, “I am not going to be taking you anywhere—um, because you’re a wanted man.”
The pilot reported it to police, but Michael was long gone. And as he continued to evade authorities, Schanda got a text message from a strange number, claiming that Michael had also been kidnapped, saying in part “pay the ransom for your husband” and “pay us 500 large or we will send him home in pieces.” A day later, friends received a shocking photo of Michael — he was nude, handcuffed, and seemingly injured.
David Begnaud: And he’s got blood on him?
Kenny Hebert: Right.
It appeared to be from Schanda’s kidnappers, but investigators knew that couldn’t be true.
Kenny Hebert: We know that, obviously, it wasn’t from them because they’re dead at this point. So, Michael, is behind these messages.
On August 11, 2017, after a four-day manhunt, detectives finally cornered the multimillionaire, once accustomed to private jets and five-star hotels—he was in an off-ramp motel in Slidell, Louisiana.
As they took an oddly smiling Michael Handley into custody, investigators began sifting through the nearly $10,000 in cash, pizza boxes, and illicit drugs, finding a “to-do” list. On it were things like “burner phone, hair dye, cash” — but its final task was even more ominous, says prosecutor, Kenny Hebert, since Schanda’s safehouse was just 35 miles away.
Kenny Hebert: But on the bottom of that list were the words, “Finish the job.”
David Begnaud: And finish the job would mean?
Kenny Hebert: In our opinion, he was gonna kill her.
With Michael Handley now in a jail, Schanda and her security team decided it was finally safe to come out of hiding.
Sid Hebert: It was time to go home. And that’s what she said, “I just wanna go home … and rebuild my life.”
But with his track record of evading justice, Isabella was skeptical that the worst was behind them.
Isabella Cumberland: I remember thinking that … it was almost pointless that he was being arrested. … It felt like he had all the power, and he was gonna keep all of the power.
Michael Handley pleaded not guilty to a litany of charges, including conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, and prosecutors got to work building their case against him.
Kenny Hebert: Anytime you’re on our side of the table, you start thinking, “What’s the defense gonna be?” We could not figure out what (laughs) his defense was gonna be.
Kevin Stockstill: There was no question that she was a victim of a kidnapping.
But, says Kevin Stockstill, the man who Michael Handley hired to defend him, the physical evidence doesn’t prove his client played a part in any of it.
David Begnaud: Were the van and handcuffs enough to convict him?
Kevin Stockstill: I don’t think so.
That is because, Stockstill says, there is an explanation for everything. It started when Michael hired Sylvester Bracey — not to kidnap his wife — but instead, he claims, to move some furniture. That was the reason Michael rented the van, he says, and made no effort to hide it.
Kevin Stockstill: Mr. Handley, you know, goes into the Enterprise Rent-A-Car location with his … credit card in one hand and driver’s license in the other.
David Begnaud: So, you thought you could explain to the jury, “Hey, listen. Nobody who’s actually gonna commit this crime’s gonna go in with their license and ID and buy it themselves.”
Kevin Stockstill: Correct.
It was all innocent enough, Stockstill says, until the would-be “mover” went rogue. Stockstill theorizes Sylvester Bracey saw Michael’s desperation to get his wife back and decided to use it to his advantage. That’s when he enlisted Arsenio Haynes to help him kidnap Schanda and hold her for ransom.
David Begnaud: So, you’re thinking the kidnappers could have wanted to extort Michael to get money from him, so they would have kidnapped his wife.
Kevin Stockstill: Potentially.
And of course, he did buy the handcuffs, but Stockstill says he only used them to stage that fake kidnapping photo.
Kevin Stockstill: So, as he’s bound and gagged, he’s bound with handcuffs.
It was just the latest example, according to Stockstill, of photos and videos that Michael had been sending to Schanda for months showing him in emotional distress, and, in one case, apparently beaten up in a misguided attempt to try to win her back.
MICHAEL HANDLEY (crying in video): I love you. I love you.
Kevin Stockstill: Because Michael had … he had a proclivity to try … and stage these things … to get, you know, sympathy from Schanda.
But as the defense prepared to argue that the kidnappers acted on their own, Schanda Handley made a damning discovery while cleaning out a remote Mississippi property they owned.
Kenny Hebert: Schanda starts gettin’ some of her personal belongings. Well, one of the things that they found was this camera.
It was a type of camera called Arlo and Michael Handley used it for security.
David Begnaud: When Arlo detects sound and video, Arlo starts recording.
Schanda Handley: That’s right, that’s right.
Well, it turns out he accidently turned the camera on himself.
David Begnaud: All put together, what did the camera record?
Schanda Handley: I mean, hundreds of hours, hundreds of hours.
One of the first videos is from two months before the kidnapping. Michael is by himself in a hotel room and is apparently talking to himself.
Kenny Hebert: You see him movin’ around. And at some point, he picks the camera up and he puts it in a bag. And you hear him say the words, “I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her.”
MICHAEL HANDLEY (video): Kill her … kill her.
Prosecutors believe the “her” he intended to kill was Schanda, and that Michael was even more explicit just days later in a conversation with a friend in the living room of the Mississippi house.
Kenny Hebert: They’re havin’ beers and they’re discussing the issues that he’s having with Schanda.
FRIEND (video): Y’all are both pretty stubborn …
MICHAEL HANDLEY: Neither one of us is going to surrender to the other.
FRIEND: Right. Yeah, she’s not going to and you’re not going to.
The friend later said he didn’t recall hearing what Michael said next.
MICHAEL HANDLEY (video): And that’s why she’ll die.
Schanda Handley: Michael says … “That’s why she’s gonna have to die.” Just so matter of fact.
In yet another clip from just two weeks before the kidnapping… Michael Handley is caught with Sylvester Bracey at that property planning how it was the perfect place, prosecutors say, to bring Schanda to torture her — and possibly worse.
Kenny Hebert: He specifically says, “It’s almost impossible for anyone to get in here.” … to which Bracey responds, “And it’ll be impossible for her to get out.”
MICHAEL HANDLEY (video): Thing is, you can’t break in this place. You can’t break in here …
SYLVESTER BRACEY: And she can’t break out.
David Begnaud: I mean, did you think you had a rock-solid case before that?
Kenny Hebert: Yes.
David Begnaud: But what’d you think after it.
Kenny Hebert: I thought, “I must have done somethin’ right in the world.”
Then, in a move no one saw coming, Michael Handley agreed to tell his side of things.
QUESTIONS FOR MICHAEL HANDLEY
While awaiting trial for the kidnapping of his estranged wife, Schanda, Michael Handley was held in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. But Schanda says even though Michael was behind bars, he continued to harass her.
Schanda Handley: I’ve received a lot of mail, letters … while he’s been incarcerated. … I got numerous calls.
David Begnaud: Can’t they stop him from calling you?
Schanda Handley: I guess not.
On top of that, Schanda lived in fear that Michael just might get out. That’s because, at one point, the defense argued that Michael was suffering from mental illness and was not guilty by reason of insanity.
Kevin Stockstill: When Michael was — was sober … he was a fantastic individual, you know … Very talented — willing to help people. … when he was found at the hotel in Slidell, I mean, there were drugs there. You know. There’s no question that he was using again. … I don’t know the level of his responsibility, but … I think it’s a combination of — substance abuse and … some mental illness.
For prosecutor Kenny Hebert, however, it was a desperate attempt to get Michael released.
Kenny Hebert: They did it so that they could get some psychological — professionals on the stand to say, “He needs to be out of jail, and he needs to go to these mental health facilities.” … Well, we’re talkin’ about mental health facilities that don’t have nearly the security that a jail has.
Michael’s defense team submitted mental health records showing that he suffered from bipolar disorder complicated by drug addiction, which they say rendered him legally insane during the time leading up to the kidnapping. Two court-appointed doctors agreed. But the judge ruled Michael was competent to stand trial and must remain behind bars.
Kenny Hebert: Once they initially failed to get him out … they withdrew that plea.
David Begnaud: And what did they change it to?
Kenny Hebert: They just changed it to regular not guilty.
While Michael Handley’s criminal battle was heating up, in March of 2018, his divorce from Schanda became finalized. Schanda was awarded all of the assets. There was only one problem.
Schanda Handley: There is no money. There’s no money. You know, millions of dollars vanished.
Christine Mire: Michael was a very eccentric person. … he was obsessed with the collapse of the American dollar. So much of their money was in gold bars.
Kenny Hebert: Schanda said she had seen gold before and knew that there was gold somewhere on that … property. … I believe people actually went out with metal detectors to try to figure out if he stashed it somewhere. … No gold was ever recovered … So, there’s all of this money that’s unaccounted for … But we know it’s gotta be out there somewhere.
On top of being left with nothing, Schanda says she suddenly found herself responsible for repaying her now ex-husband’s massive debts.
David Begnaud: How much of a hole did he leave you in?
Schanda Handley: $750,000. … I can’t comprehend how I’m now in a position where I owe this sort of money.
Schanda felt like it was a slap in the face after enduring so much. But it wasn’t all for naught. During the settlement negotiations Schanda’s divorce attorney Christine Mire had subpoenaed Michael for a deposition. And surprisingly he agreed.
David Begnaud: I mean, that’s wild.
Christine Mire: It is.
Kenny Hebert: I can imagine that someone with the arrogance that Michael Handley had, insisted that he was gonna testify and it was gonna be fine, ’cause he is the smartest person in the room.
Schanda’s divorce attorney and the prosecutors had agreed to cooperate with each other. And everyone was interested in hearing what Michael Handley had to say.
Kevin Stockstill: It was a risk.
David Begnaud: Because he might go into that deposition and say stuff that really jeopardizes his criminal case.
Kevin Stockstill: I’ve never been more nervous in a deposition than that one.
Dressed in a striped prison uniform, Michael answered questions for 10 hours over three days.
Kevin Stockstill: I was hanging on every question.
David Begnaud: I bet you were.
Kevin Stockstill: Yeah.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: It was a chaotic and hectic time. I was living out of hotels. I’d been moving from hotel to hotel for several months.
Michael was asked about his relationship with Sylvester Bracey, and the reason he rented that van.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: Sylvester Bracey, I had hired him to move furniture. … I rented the van to make a move, to move the furniture.
He stuck with his original story.
Christine Mire: He said that he had hired movers in order to move furniture, and they went rogue, because they thought he had money.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: I got a phone call. … As soon as I answered the phone and I said “Hello,” they screamed — they screamed, “We’ve got your mother******* wife.” And — I just remember ’cause it was like I got punched in the gut … It was like one of those moments when you go into — not real.
But when pressed about the details of how he first met Bracey, Michael claimed he couldn’t remember much about the weeks leading up to the kidnapping.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: I don’t recall.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: The reason that I don’t recall is because I was high. I was living like a rock star. I was on and off medications during this period of time … and I was under the influence of substances.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: Mental illness is tough, you know.
But, he insisted, despite the gaps in memory, there was one thing he knew for certain.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: I would not kidnap my wife.
Christine Mire: He would cry, and say that he loved her so much, that he was so sorry. It was that type of manipulation.
MICHAEL HANDLEY: I have tremendous regret.
During the deposition, Mire pulled that Arlo camera recording in which prosecutors believe Bracey and Michael Handley were caught talking about the plot to kidnap Schanda — the wife Handley claimed he loved so much.
Christine Mire: I queued up where one of the kidnappers was telling Michael, “And, you know, if she gets outta line, I won’t hesitate to kill her.”
SYLVESTER BRACEY TO MICHAEL HANDLEY (camera recording): I’ll kill that mother f*****.
Christine Mire: And I said, “What kind of movers tell that to you?” And his fear was palpable, and he said, “Oh, I don’t know Christine, people tell me all sorts of things.”
Michael Handley withered under questioning, poking holes in his own defense with his own words.
Kenny Hebert: The civil attorneys provided us with those deposition transcripts shortly after receiving ’em.
And with the trial date fast approaching, Michael’s defense attorney feared the worst.
Kevin Stockstill: We were of the opinion that he ran a significant risk of — of a conviction.
With the walls closing in, and hours before the trial was to start, Michael Handley indicated he was open to a deal.
Kevin Stockstill: He would plead, you know, second-degree kidnapping. The minimum sentence would be 15 years. The maximum sentence would be 35 years.
Prosecutors Donny Knecht and Kenny Hebert say there was a lot to take into consideration.
Donny Knecht: The problem with a jury trial is you — you almost never know.
Kenny Hebert: But also knew that there’s Schanda Handley. … there’s Isabella. … You’ve got victims that have to relive that moment if you go to trial.
Ultimately, the decision to take the deal or go to trial was Schanda’s.
Schanda Handley: I was so scared that if we went to trial that it could work out beautifully for him. … because Michael always lands on his feet. … once Michael’s out, I’m no longer free.
In July 2021, all Schanda Handley wanted was for her ex-husband Michael Handley to stay behind bars. So, she agreed to accept his plea of guilty to second degree kidnapping.
Schanda Handley: I didn’t want to take any risks … I would rather the plea deal than to take the chance and go to trial.
Less than a year later, on March 24, 2022, Schanda was in the courtroom to find out what Michael’s sentence would be. Isabella was there, too, as was Michael.
David Begnaud: What was it like to come face-to-face with him in court?
Isabella Cumberland: It was so surreal, you know? … And I think honestly for both of us, it was this really strong, powerful emotion that we both felt, but mine was hatred.
Hoping to help convince the judge to give Michael the maximum sentence, Isabella chose to give a victim impact statement.
David Begnaud: What did you say at the hearing?
Isabella Cumberland: I really kind of told a story about … how difficult it really made my life, and how difficult it still makes my life. … because I didn’t think he knew that it affected me as well as it affected her.
Schanda also had something she wanted to say to Michael.
Schanda Handley: I told him that he wrecked everything, and that he destroyed everything, … and how could you … like, we had, like, a really — we had a good life. We … had a good family. And we … we adored each other. … He was the person I most admired in this world until then.
David Begnaud: Do you think Michael understands his actions have had an effect on his former wife and stepchild?
Kevin Stockstill: I think that he does.
David Begnaud: You get the sense the guy is sorry?
Kevin Stockstill: I think so. … I think he’s capable of remorse.
Yet, when it was Michael’s turn to speak, instead of a tearful apology, he gave yet another new story. This time he admitted he did, in fact, hire the two men to kidnap Schanda. But he claimed it was all fake, and staged so that he could swoop in, save her, and be the hero.
Donny Knecht: What he really wanted to do was emerge as the white knight … who came in and rescued her. … It was a way for him to try to win her back, but he never really intended to hurt her. … it was all a big game.
In the end, the judge sided with the prosecution and gave Michael Handley the maximum penalty.
NEWS REPORT: A Lafayette man was sentenced today in the 2017 kidnapping case of his estranged wife. Lawrence Michael Handley received 35-years in prison for the crime.
Schanda Handley: Thirty-five years, minus five for time served … puts him out when he’s 79.
David Begnaud: Seventy-nine. … Are you OK with that?
Schanda Handley: I’d rather he never get out.
David Begnaud: Are you still afraid, even with him behind bars?
Schanda Handley: Oh, yeah.
That concern is something Isabella shares.
David Begnaud: Do you fear for your safety from Michael Handley?
Isabella Cumberland: Yeah. I do. … Nothing could stop him.
Isabella Cumberland: I just see him as a villain, not a good person. And … I’m not sad about it. In my mind, he’s changed to a completely different person. So, it doesn’t feel like I’ve lost my dad. It feels like I’ve lost a stranger.
The now 20-year-old college junior chooses to focus on the valuable lesson that she learned from her mother.
Isabella Cumberland: It’s so powerful to see how my mom handled this situation, … She’s shown me how she can overcome something so horrible, and turn it into something great, and become an even better person out of it.
Schanda has found renewed purpose working with others like her. She sold property, took out a loan, and opened two sober living homes dedicated to helping women get back on their feet.
Schanda Handley (outside of sober living home): It’s been really, really rewarding. … And you know, from my experiences that I’ve had — the challenges that I’ve had … I’m … able to … show them firsthand that … We get up, we keep goin’. We put one foot in front of the other and— we will persevere.
An important part of moving forward for Schanda has been recognizing those who stood by her. And while she did speak on the phone with Chad Martin, the officer who saved her, she never got the chance to thank him in person until now. “48 Hours” arranged for them to meet.
SCHANDA HANDLEY: It’s so good to meet you.
DEPUTY CHAD MARTIN: It’s good to see you again. (They hug)
SCHANDA: Yeah, I’m looking at you to see if I can remember.
DEPUTY CHAD MARTIN: I remember. … I’m really glad that — I was in the right place at the right time to help you. Really glad.
SCHANDA HANDLEY: Thank you. … I feel like I owe you everything. … I guess my greatest gratitude in you saving my life is that my daughter gets to have her mom and have a good life. … Thank you. Give you another hug.
Handley is appealing, saying he was not properly informed of his rights when he pleaded guilty. He is also arguing his sentence of 35 year was too harsh.
Produced by Chris O’Connell, Betsy Shuller and Rich Fetzer. David Dow is the development producer. Marlon Disla, Michelle Harris and George Baluzy are the editors. Morgan Canty is the associate producer. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior broadcast producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer