Berlinah Wallace did her research, viewing 82 different websites about sulphuric acid before luring her ex-boyfriend to her apartment in Bristol, England, under the guise of wanting to work things out, prosecutors said.
There, as Mark van Dongen lay half-naked in her bed, Wallace poured the deadly substance on his face and body, leaving him severely scarred and paralyzed from the neck down, The Guardian reported. Just a month earlier, the Dutch engineer had revealed he’d started seeing someone else.
“If I can't have you, no one can,” Wallace, a 49-year-old former fashion student, allegedly said during the September 2015 attack. She even started laughing.
Fifteen months later, the 29-year-old Van Dongen ended his life in a euthanasia clinic. And now, after more than two years, Wallace was sentenced Wednesday to at least 12 years in prison for what a Bristol judge deemed to be “an act of pure evil.”
“Your intention was to burn, disfigure and disable Mark van Dongen so that he would not be attractive to any other woman,” Justice Nicola Davies said of Wallace, who was found guilty of throwing a corrosive substance with intent.
The 12-year sentence wasn’t enough for Van Dongen’s family, who stressed that Wallace had inflicted irrevocable damage on their lives.
“I’m very pleased she’ll be locked up for a minimum of 12 years, but really it’s too little, because we as a family have been sentenced to life,” his father, Kees van Dongen, said Wednesday, according to The Guardian. “There are only losers in this case. This has completely ruined our lives—financially and as a family. Our home has fallen apart. I hope we can start to pick up the pieces and rebuild.”
Wallace and Van Dongen met on a dating site for HIV-positive people and were together for five years before breaking up in 2015. She claimed at trial that he was emotionally and physically abusive throughout the relationship. But before his death, Van Dongen had said that she was the abusive one, once hurling boiling water at him during a fight.
In the summer of 2015, Wallace found out that Van Dongen had started seeing another woman. She then began planning the attack, eventually buying a bottle of sulphuric acid off Amazon, according to prosecutors. On September 22, 2015, Van Dongen went over to her apartment and insisted their relationship was over, but stayed the night anyway.
Around 3 a.m., Wallace struck, splashing him with acid while he was peacefully resting, prosecutors alleged.
“You chose your moment for the attack,” Davies said Wednesday. “It occurred when Mark van Dongen, wearing only boxer shorts, was asleep in the bed which you had shared in your flat. Vulnerable, almost naked, he awoke but had no real opportunity to avoid the focus of your acid attack, namely his face and body.”
Van Dongen stumbled out into the street, where neighbors found him and called the cops. The scarring would be the least of his worries. Van Dongen spent four months in a coma, and when he came out of it, his new reality was bleak: He was paralyzed from the neck down, and he’d lost an eye, leg, and ear, according to the BBC.
After over a year in the hospital, Van Dongen applied for euthanasia in Belgium, where he ultimately died in a hospital in 2017.
Wallace’s defense had argued that she shouldn’t be held accountable for Van Dongen’s decision to end his life because there was no “causal link” between his death and the acid attack, The Guardian reported. Davies said Wednesday that’s not why she gave her a minimum of 12 years behind bars.
“I do sentence you for the harm which you inflicted, the catastrophic and life-changing injuries, 15 months of acute physical and psychological suffering,” she said.