By: Jon Corrigan
For the first time in a decade, Jana Kramer opened up about the domestic abuse she endured from her little-known first husband, Michael Gambino.
Abuse so severe, it landed Gambino in prison for attempted murder.
“I met Mike when I was 19 at a Coffee Bean in L.A. He was a smooth-talker, very charming, intriguing and obviously older,” Kramer, 32, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “At the time, I liked that. I felt protected.”
The couple married in early 2004 after two weeks of dating – and the honeymoon period was short-lived.
Gambino, who was nearly two decades older than Kramer, was jealous and easily angered and developed an abusive routine that led to the singer sleeping in her car on occasion or hiding in bushes until he calmed down.
“He’d come home at 3 o’clock in the morning and pick me up out of bed, throw me onto the ground and start yelling and hitting,” she remembers. “Then the next morning he’d be like, ‘Hey, baby,’ as if nothing had happened.”
Kramer used makeup to hide the bruises from family and friends.
Things reached a breaking point on Aug. 6, 2005, when Gambino choked her until her lost consciousness and left her bleeding on the gravel outside their home in Los Angeles.
Kramer still has small scars on her shoulder and arm from that night.
Gambino was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2010 and committed suicide two years later.