"When I met him, I felt so safe and secure," recalled Tracey Thurman. But the man she married was anything but a haven for a young woman trying to recover from the loss of her mother. In 1983, in broad daylight and in the back yard of the house where she was living, Tracey Thurman's estranged husband stabbed her 13 times and broke her neck. The attack lasted 27 minutes, in full view of witnesses. The Torrington, Conn., policeman who responded to the emergency call did nothing to stop Buck Thurman's rage. So a partially paralyzed Tracey Thurman sued the police force, alleging negligence and violation of her constitutional rights. She won in what is now a landmark case. Monday, NBC will air "A Cry for Help: The Tracey Thurman Story," starring Nancy McKeon as Tracey and Dale Midkiff as her ex-husband. Writer Beth Sullivan worked from Tracey Thurman's own story and court transcripts. Bruce Weitz plays Thurman's attorney, Burton Weinstein. Like actress Theresa Saldana, who was stabbed and nearly killed by a psychopath, Tracey Thurman worries about her assailant's release from prison. Buck Thurman will come up for parole in 1991, having served half his 15-year sentence. "I'm terrified of that," she said last week. "His father went on the stand and said he's either going to come back to finish the job or to ask me whether we can get back together. I don't want to think about it now. If I thought about it every day, I'd be a basket case." She has stayed in Torrington, where she still has friends and relatives -- her father, two sisters and a brother. "He's going to find me wherever I go," she said. "When I was separated from him, neighbors would call me and say, 'We can see Buck. He's two streets over.' Here in town, everyone knows what he's capable of -- and what I'm capable of." The Torrington police -- 29 of whom were named as individual defendants in the suit, 24 of those found guilty -- "were not ever trained," she said. "In New York City or somewhere he would have been shot right on the spot. But they used the excuse that he had my son." In fact, she said, Buck Thurman had already stabbed her when he went into the house and grabbed a sleeping C.J. from his bed. Because Tracey Thurman had repeatedly called the police while her estranged husband stalked and threatened her, and because she had asked them to arrest him, the Torrington police were judged negligent in not affording her the protection to which any other crime victim was entitled. They had, ruled Judge Joseph Blumenfeld, discriminated against her because she was married to the perpetrator. "Such inaction on the part of the officer is a denial of the equal protection of the laws," he ruled. Thurman won a settlement of $2.3 million in federal court (after an appeal, the police settled out of court for $1.9 million). Tracey Thurman's legacy to other victims of domestic attacks is Connecticut legislation called the Thurman Law, requiring police to respond to domestic violence as they would to any other crime. And the insurance company that paid the bill, as well as other insurance companies, began pressuring municipalities to provide training for police on domestic violence or risk losing their coverage. Looking back, Thurman says she grew up in Torrington as "a mama's girl -- she was my whole life." The death of her mother when Tracey was 17 so upset her that she fled, heading to Florida where she found a job working in a motel. There she met Buck Thurman, whose family, working on construction in the area, was staying in the motel. The two had been married less than two years and had a small son, C.J., when Buck Thurman grew increasingly abusive. Tracey Thurman said she knew that her father-in-law had been an alcoholic who had beaten his own wife. But he had been through a rehabilitation program and no longer was violent, she said. She also knew that Buck was "close to his mother." "It took me so long to leave because I knew what he had gone through as a child," she explained. "I knew Buck had a temper, but he would strike the walls. I just thought, 'What a fool.' Then I became pregnant and that made us stay together longer. I just thought that I could change him and the baby could change him. And I always thought a boy needed a father. But there's no chance for us." She decided to return to Torrington, taking their son with her. They stayed with friends, Judy Bently and Rick St. Hilaire. But only two weeks later, Buck Thurman turned up at the house. When Bently and St. Hilaire left the room, he attacked Tracey, saying no one else would raise their son. Police were called three times that night. Later, during another attack, he choked her, took C.J. and warned that if she called the police he'd kill her. She filed the first of many written reports, but found the police unresponsive and reluctant to become involved. When Buck Thurman broke the windshield of her car with his fist, in full view of a police officer standing less than half a block away, he was finally arrested. He was given a six-months sentence, suspended under the condition that he would quit harassing her. Two months later a neighbor called to tell her Buck Thurman was standing outside her house. Again she called the police, who said there was nothing they could do. Thurman continued to harass Tracey, watching her surreptitiously, telephoning her. When he was served with divorce papers, he escalated his threats and she reported them to the police. Finally she obtained a restraining order. Meanwhile, Buck Thurman told customers at the diner where he worked that he planned to kill his wife and even brandished a knife. Then came the attack on June 10, 1983. Thurman arrived at Bently's house and sent her to get Tracey. Tracey called the police, but waited to go downstairs, hoping they would show up first. Finally one officer arrived, but while he was still in his car across the street, Thurman dragged Tracey by the hair to the back yard and, in broad daylight, stabbed her 13 times. The officer, who had stopped to knock on the front door, took the bloody knife from Thurman, but said at the trial that he hadn't seen a body, although he had heard a scream, and surmised that "for all he knew, the man might have stabbed a dog or a chicken," according to Weinstein. While the officer did nothing, Thurman, wearing heavy work boots, stomped on Tracey's head until her neck was broken, her spinal cord damaged and her body numb. While she lay near death, she said, he went inside the house and retrieved their toddler, carried him downstairs and told him he had "killed your {expletive} mother." The policeman finally radioed for an ambulance and backup car, but after 27 minutes, still had not taken Thurman into custody. Meanwhile, bystanders said, Thurman kicked his wife in the head again. Five officers who arrived failed to subdue him, but concentrated on getting Tracey Thurman into the ambulance, reportedly refusing the assistance of paramedics. Finally, when Thurman began climbing into the ambulance to attack her a third time, they wrestled him to the ground. Tracey Thurman said she doesn't know what her son C.J. saw that day. "When I first came home {from the hospital}, he spit at me and cried that he wanted his old mommy back." Mother and son had been separated for eight months. For two of them, little C.J. was unable to see his mother, who was fighting for her life with tubes in her throat after an emergency tracheotomy. She spent eight more months in a wheelchair. Tracey Thurman's face and back are badly scarred from the attack. She also carries a mean scar across her throat from the tracheotomy. Because of her spinal cord injury, her right side is partly paralyzed. Her right leg is particularly weak, and she can't fully move her right arm or hand. She has no feeling in her left fingertips and from her left knee to the toes. Part of her time is spent in physical therapy, trying to regain mobility curtailed when her spinal cord was damaged. "I'm at a standstill now," she said. "I was told I could cut down {the physical therapy} to one day, but I thought once week wasn't enough. I can lose what I have. So I go three days a week." Tracey Thurman is trying to pull her life together. In November, she is to be married to Mike Motuzick, a carpenter. She sometimes speaks at a women's shelter in Torrington and said she would "like to work at the shelter, but I get too emotional. I had spoken to groups at the shelter before and there was a girl who had said her husband beat her and she kept going back to him. She'd call the police and they'd come, but she'd go back to him. "I can understand the cops' getting aggravated too. That might be part of the reason they didn't take me seriously, because I wasn't divorced. They had never dealt with anything like this. They all panicked. The one {Officer Fred Petrovits} that really screwed up, I feel sorry for the most. He retired a week later. He was an older man, the scapegoat. The way his fellow officers spoke of him made me sick. They should have sent more than one officer. And even though he lied {on the stand}, I felt sorry for him. I still see him around, but I don't talk to him." Tracey Thurman is still trying to protect C.J., now 8, from the emotional trauma of his father's attack on her. But not long ago, she said he popped what he thought was a Bugs Bunny tape into the videocassette recorder and inadvertently saw Tom Jarriel's "20/20" report of the Thurman case, which his mother had taped when it aired on ABC on Jan. 23, 1986. The account, called "Please ... Somebody Help Me," included interviews with her and with Bently, St. Hilaire, Weinstein, Tracey's sister Cheryl Sorvillo, defense lawyer Jesse Frankl, eyewitnesses to the savage attack, and the police chief of neighboring Farmington, who acknowledged that police departments then often treated domestic cases less seriously. "It's so hard to tell my son about it," said Thurman. "I don't want to teach him that you take the law into your own hands. For a long time he wanted to go after his father. I don't want him to be like that." She plans to put C.J. to bed before "A Cry for Help" airs at 9 on Monday. When he's older, she'll let him see the dramatization to help him understand. She is telling her story, she said, because she realized that "when I went through all this, I was ashamed to say anything. I thought I was the only one. I feel obligated because I was lucky to be alive. I hope somebody benefits by it."