By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM — Three months ago, a judge compared Joseph Louf to an “animal” that “needs to be caged,” after what the judge called one of the worst cases of domestic abuse he had seen.
But yesterday another judge came to a different conclusion, agreeing to release Louf from custody while he awaits trial on charges that he repeatedly beat his girlfriend, leaving her permanently disfigured and on the brink of blindness.
Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead said he believes the testimony of the 29-year-old Gloucester woman who said Louf controlled nearly every aspect of her life, and humiliated her by telling her she didn’t “deserve someone as good as him.” But the judge concluded that Louf no longer poses a danger to her.
“My concern is not that he’s going to seek out (the former girlfriend),” said Whitehead. Instead, the judge suggested that Louf poses a danger to other women with whom he becomes involved.
So the judge ordered that Louf, 37, will be confined to his uncle’s Peabody home, monitored by a GPS bracelet, and barred from using the Internet and from having any women visit his home.
“I’m going to order that he not have any relationship with any woman,” said the judge.
Louf could be released as early as next week, if his family can come up with $1,000 bail.
The ruling followed a hearing where prosecutor Kate MacDougall asked that Whitehead keep Louf in custody as a danger to both the former girlfriend and to all women he encounters.
Louf, who until his arrest ran a mixed martial arts school in Beverly called American Total Defense, is facing charges that include attempted murder, mayhem (the intentional disfigurement of someone), and assault and battery causing serious bodily injury.
The woman suffered two detached retinas and severe facial injuries, including a broken nose and a missing piece of her lip, as well as disfigured ears, injuries Louf says she received while she was “sparring” at his school.
During the hearing, Louf’s new attorney, Ray Buso, insisted on questioning the woman again, then confronted her repeatedly with love letters that she had written to Louf during their 11/2 year relationship, and Facebook posts about her weight loss and the good time she was having with Louf. He suggested that the allegations were prompted by her seeing Louf with another woman after they broke up.
The woman testified that she wrote the letters because she thought that’s what Louf wanted to hear, that he controlled her Facebook page and posted things under her name, and that she never saw him with another woman.
Judge Whitehead, however, suggested that if she had a motive to retaliate, “you would think she would have gone to the police.” Instead, she told only her family and friends, embarrassed by what had happened to her after she moved in with Louf.
“This wasn’t a breakup,” said MacDougall, the prosecutor. “This was flight.”
“Essentially she was held hostage by this defendant for the entire duration of the relationship,” said the prosecutor. And after the woman left, the prosecutor said, Louf was seen outside her mother’s workplace.
But the judge suggested that there was no evidence Louf was seeking out the woman herself, though he acknowledged that Louf showed a “striking” need for control at all times.
Buso, in turn, called a character witness, a friend of Louf’s mother, who had taken her son, a young man with special needs, to Louf’s studio for two years.
“He has done so much in his mind to help the community,” said Buso, pointing to Louf’s work with children and with helping others lose significant amounts of weight.
“But we know that people often lead double lives,” said Whitehead.
MacDougall also questioned Louf’s credibility, pointing to his use of aliases on social media sites and to questions about his credentials as a mixed martial artist sensei, questions that were raised online by others involved in the martial arts.
MacDougall said investigators have learned that Louf has repeatedly pursued relationships with women who have indicated they are not interested.
Throughout yesterday’s hearing, Louf appeared to cry, though he would pause at times to say something to his other attorney, then begin making sniffling sounds again.
MacDougall pointed out that the tears were in marked contrast to his “defiant” demeanor during his first dangerousness hearing in February.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.