Published June 19. 2013 6:00AM Updated June 20. 2013 9:13PM
Robert Bergeson died Tuesday night after allegedly setting his Salem house, barn ablaze
Salem — Robert Bergeson, who was shot and killed by police Tuesday night after allegedly setting fire to his Witter Road home and barn, had received a suspended prison sentence June 6 for assaulting his wife in the middle of the night in September.
The couple recently was divorced, and the log cabin and barns — of which a cousin said Bergeson had built "every square inch" — were to be sold, with Gale Bergeson receiving 60 percent of the proceeds.
The cousin, Barbara Major of New London, said Robert Bergeson would have turned 60 on Wednesday. She said he grew up in Waterford and had retired from Pfizer. He has two children.
"It's a sad time for the family," she said. "We all wish we could have helped him. He was very depressed."
"It's a tragedy," she added. "He had a good heart. Sometimes you can only take so much."
According to documents on file at Norwich Superior Court, the divorce became final May 2. Gale Bergeson filed for divorce Dec. 8, 2011, after alleging that she suffered physical abuse throughout their nearly 25 years of marriage.
"He has become very upset and has told the plaintiff that she will receive nothing as it relates to the finances of the parties' long marriage," divorce records state. "The defendant has further told the plaintiff that he will make sure that their assets do not exist in a way that the plaintiff could ever receive access to them."
Gale Bergeson told the court she fled to Florida temporarily and stayed with her brother because she feared her husband.
According to the records, the house was to be put up for sale, with Gale Bergeson receiving 60 percent of the proceeds. Robert Bergeson was given the first option to buy the house.
According to the prosecutor's report, last Sept. 22 at about 4:45 a.m., state troopers from Troop K in Colchester were dispatched to 28 Witter Road for a report of a domestic assault.
Bergeson told police they had better send emergency medical services to his house because he was going to kill the victim, the report said.
Gale Bergeson told police that Robert Bergeson struck her head multiple times with a lamp. Officers at the scene noted strangulation marks around her neck and numerous injuries to her head, the report said. It also said she had broken ribs after being punched and kicked numerous times.
Robert Bergeson was taken into custody and refused to talk to police, the report said.
At his sentencing, the court issued a protective order for Gale Bergeson, which required Robert Bergeson to surrender all firearms, not to assault her and to stay away from her residence.
He was sentenced June 6 to a suspended five-year sentence and two years probation for second-degree assault and second-degree harassment. On May 19, prior to his sentencing, he had entered the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville. He was released from custody at the time of his sentencing.
Robert Bergeson also was convicted of second-degree harassment for threatening to "put a bullet" through a man's head after he accused the man of having an affair with his wife, an arrest warrant said.
The fire at 28 Witter Road was reported at 6:36 p.m. Tuesday. Firefighters arrived to find two fires — a fully engulfed three-car detached garage and a rapidly growing blaze in the log cabin home. The entrance to the property was blocked by several vehicles and a farm tractor, which inhibited the fire department's ability to reach the fire scene, state police spokesman Capt. Thomas Garbedian said.
Two firefighters spotted a man in a wooded area adjacent to the home. The man was yelling and reportedly waving a gun, Garbedian said.
"When troopers tried to approach this individual, they observed that he was acting very irrationally and began to charge at them while waving a large blunt object resembling a club in a threatening manner," Garbedian said in a statement Wednesday.
"The male failed to comply with the troopers' repeated requests to stop and drop the weapon. As a result, one trooper discharged his firearm to stop the imminent threat," Garbedian said.
Witnesses said they heard multiple shots fired Tuesday night.
The man, whose relatives confirm was Bergeson, was administered first aid and taken by ambulance to The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, and later was transferred to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. Officials there confirmed that Bergeson had died.
An autopsy is pending.
Detectives from the central and eastern districts of the state police Major Crime Unit, the Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit and the state and local fire marshal's offices are simultaneously investigating the shooting and the cause and origin of the fire, Garbedian said.
He added that evidence discovered at the scene suggests the fire might have been set intentionally.
Early Wednesday morning, an investigator for state police could be seen in a field videotaping the area where the shooting occurred. Another investigator was taking road measurements.