‘I wear his anger on my skin,’ skater ‘Nina Knockout’ says of husband who stabbed her

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The former Philly Roller Derby skater known as “Nina Knockout” brought a silent courtroom into her shattered world Wednesday, recounting how the hope of marriage transformed into the fear and doubt of a battered wife, culminating on the day her husband stabbed her 60 to 70 times and also tried to kill their two young children.

“I wear his anger on my skin, and I have to look at it every day knowing this man butchered us,” Danecia Berrian, 38, told a Philadelphia judge as she softly wept at her husband’s sentencing.

Calling Stephen Burton a “monster,” Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn Bright sentenced him to 44 to 89 years in state prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

Burton, 43, briefly told the judge shortly beforehand: “I’m sorry for what occurred that night … I’m not a monster. I just made a mistake.”

“This is not a mistake,” the judge said. “You don’t by mistake stab someone 60 to 70 times, then go after your children. … So, yes, sir, in this instance, you were a monster.”

On Oct. 11, Burton pleaded no contest to three counts of attempted murder, two counts of child endangerment, and three counts of possession of an instrument of crime — a butcher knife.

As “Nina Knockout,” Berrian had been a standout skater and blocker with the Liberty Belles roller derby team. She retired from the sport in 2013 after she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

Shortly after midnight on July 26, 2015, she used her strength to save her two children in their rowhouse on the 1900 block of Dallas Road in West Oak Lane.

Berrian told the judge her husband, from whom she is now in the process of finalizing a divorce, had abused her for years since the summer of 2011, when he slammed her into a door with a mirror and the glass shattered.

“This was my marriage,” she told the judge. “Was this really what marriage was supposed to be? … I was thinking, ‘When do you give up?’ Was I really a bad wife?”

They tried counseling and things got better, then worse. She said she called police, but they wouldn’t throw Burton out of the house because he was her husband.

“It was like every time they [the police] came and left, he felt empowered,” she said. She went to file for a restraining order, but said a judge told her that her husband could only be “restrained” to the house they were living in because there was no other place for him to go.

They then agreed he would live in the basement, then eventually agreed for him to move out. But that never happened.

On that July night, the children were sleeping. Burton was upset and asked about a new relationship she had. She told him it was “respectful and new” and wasn’t intimate.

Then, when things became calm, and she finished a phone call with her mother, Berrian said Burton all of a sudden “ran toward me with a butcher knife.”

He jumped over a coffee table, she recalled, pinned her on a couch in a straddle position and said: “You stupid bitch, I’m going to kill you and the kids. Then, I’m going to kill myself.”

“I started screaming and crying. … I told him I didn’t want to die,” she said. “He just kept stabbing me.”

They heard a knock and Burton ran upstairs with the knife.

Berrian, bleeding after being stabbed in her face, chest, abdomen, arm and hip, used what energy she had left to run to the top of the stairs, but collapsed.

She saw him turn over their sleeping 21-month-old daughter and stab her in the abdomen, puncturing her liver and lungs.

As he went to their 4-year-old son and “positioned the knife over his heart,” she leapt to her son’s rescue, throwing herself in between her son and the knife, saving him.

They heard more pounding on the front door. Burton fled, driving away in his wife’s car. The knocking came from a neighbor, Donletta Bolds, who had heard the screaming.

Berrian was rushed to Einstein Medical Center and her daughter to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, both in critical condition. She later learned that her daughter twice had a “code blue” and needed to be resuscitated.

About 20 hours after the attack, Burton was arrested without incident in Maryland by police who spotted Berrian’s stolen vehicle. He told police he had gone to see the White House and other monuments in Washington because he knew he would not have the chance to see them again, Assistant District Attorney Branwen McNabb said.

Berrian, an elementary-school teacher, told the judge her daughter, now 3, is still scarred on her abdomen and is scared to sleep by herself. Her son, now 6, is devastated his father who was “supposed to protect us” instead “hurt us.”

She said she has partial paralysis in her left hand and scars all over her body. 

“I just want to make sure he doesn’t get out,” she said of Burton after the hearing.

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