Day 1: Beating the system
Repeat domestic-violence offenders get off easy in Ohio, which gives more protection to pets than to people abused by their loved ones
Sunday, November 15, 2009 1:42 AM
By Stephanie Czekalinski, Jill Riepenhoff, Mike Wagner and Julie Albert
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio has about eight times as many shelters for animals as for victims of domestic violence. Few other crimes touch as many lives and receive so little attention.
And for so long.
Thirty-five years ago, Ohio made domestic violence a crime. Yet a four-month Dispatch investigation shows that today, about
45 percent of all 75,000 domestic-violence runs by police end without an arrest, which is close to the national average. Ohio law prefers arrests in such cases, and a few Ohio police departments make arrests in all cases.
Twenty-five years ago, Ohio passed a law requiring police agencies to report domestic-violence runs to the state. Yet today, nearly a quarter of law-enforcement departments ignore the requirement.
Thirteen years ago, a task force assembled by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer recommended that repeat offenders face felony records and lengthy prison sentences. Yet today, many receive only misdemeanor violations.
Nine years ago, an advocacy group founded by Abigail Wexner presented a report to Franklin County judges showing that repeat offenders are recycled through the courts with little punishment. Yet today, judges rarely give maximum sentences to repeat offenders.
Last year, state lawmakers stalled a bill that would have allowed teenagers to file for protection orders against their abusive boyfriends or girlfriends. Today in Ohio, teens ages 15 to 19 are twice as likely to experience dating violence than they are to be injured in a car crash. The bill is on the move again in the state legislature.
"None of this surprises me," said Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. As a society, "We still haven't placed accountability at the feet of the batterers. I still hear victim-blaming."
Abuse at the hands of spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, and family members does not seem to raise public ire in the same way that other crimes offend society.
Thousands of angry calls, letters and e-mails poured into the Columbus Division of Fire this year after a firefighter shot his dogs to avoid caring for them while on vacation.
But public silence followed the Sept. 12 slaying of Columbus resident Christie M. Lyles, shot by the father of her two children.
Sports fans and animal lovers were outraged when former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted on dog-fighting charges in July 2007.
At the same time in Columbus, few cried aloud about the June 2007 shooting death of Columbus' Tiffany E. Patrick, a single mother of four. Her boyfriend killed her, then took his own life. Their 4-year-old daughter witnessed the horror.
A Dispatch analysis of state statistics shows that if police made arrests in all the domestic-violence runs they handled, such abuse easily would pass drunken driving as the state's top crime. Domestic violence currently comes in second.
Police don't allow drunks to drive away. But they sometimes allow batterers to walk away.
Ohio laws are far tougher on drunken drivers than on people who batter. Even animal-abuse laws came long before domestic violence was recognized as a crime.
"We need to hold batterers accountable 100 percent of the time," said Karen S. Days, president of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence.
While Ohio has made strides to combat domestic violence, state laws give police officers, prosecutors and judges a lot of latitude. How domestic-violence victims and batterers are treated varies widely from county to county, cop to cop, and judge to judge.
Advocates say Franklin County is "doing better than most" in dealing with domestic violence, largely because of a network of free help for victims to address their legal, emotional and physical needs.
"I shudder to think of what happens in counties" with fewer resources, Days said.
Few of Ohio's 88 counties have enough support for victims. Some don't even have a shelter.
The Dispatch investigated the state of domestic violence in Ohio through analysis of reports and data from numerous sources, including the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, the Ohio Supreme Court, Franklin County courts and Ohio law-enforcement agencies.
The investigation found flaws and gaps in Ohio laws and policies that lead to a culture of indifference and tolerance. Among the findings:
The crime costs the state more than $1 billion a year in medical expenses and social services.
Domestic violence overwhelms the courts with requests for civil-protection orders, also known as restraining orders, and the orders are sometimes flimsy protection at best.
The legal system allows some repeat offenders to walk away from charges with little, if any, punishment, despite long histories of battering.
The ultimate price
A frantic man stood in JoAnn Klinglesmith's yard, trying to convince his girlfriend's mother that her daughter had just committed suicide.
"She shot herself, she shot herself," the boyfriend said. "She is on the floor. It's horrible."
Across Ontario Street, on Columbus' North Side, Christine Turner lay bloody in her hallway, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. But Klinglesmith didn't believe for a second that her daughter had taken her own life.
When Turner started dating Darrin Brodbeck about a year earlier, Klinglesmith and her husband, Sonny, feared it would end this way.
First came the swollen eye surrounded by a deep purple ring. Turner told her mom that a softball hit her.
Then came the fresh cuts and bruises on her arms. Turner, a billing clerk at a local law office, told her mom she was just wrestling with Brodbeck.
A few months into their relationship, Turner was trembling in her mother's kitchen, describing how she had just fled with her three dogs after Brodbeck violently choked her from behind.
On the last night she was alive, Turner, 36, tried to get to her parents' home, but Brodbeck caught her and dragged her by the hair back into her house. Soon, she was lying in the hallway, dead. And Brodbeck was crying suicide.
Like Klinglesmith, jurors didn't believe Brodbeck.
They convicted him of murder and domestic violence, and a judge sent the 32-year-old Columbus man to prison for at least 23 years in January 2008. He declined an interview request.
"I begged her to call the police the night she was choked, but she wouldn't do it," said Klinglesmith, of Columbus. "She ended it with him once but went back. When she did that, my husband told her that man would kill her one day. He had control over my daughter, and we just couldn't get her to take her life back from him."
For some victims, domestic violence starts with a threat, push, or punch that eventually spirals into death.
Nearly 17,000 people, mainly women, are killed each year by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Denver.
"There are so many women out there experiencing this and doing nothing about it," said Wexner, of New Albany, founder of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence.
"Tragically, some do pay the ultimate price. But it's an extremely complicated issue in which you should never blame the victim."
Under the current system, whether a woman and her children escape a violent relationship depends almost exclusively on her resources: She is more likely to leave if she has money in the bank, a car, a job, a network of friends and family, a safe place to stay.
Getting out is more difficult than packing a bag and running away.
An abuser is four times more likely to kill his victim when she tries to leave, according to an American Journal of Public Health study.
Even when they do leave, the study says, victims are likely to return to their abuser an average of seven times.
A victim might rely on her abuser for child support, for example, or health insurance, child care and housing. Some want to believe that time away will help them find romantic bliss, or that their batterers have changed.
Christine Turner fell for such a promise.
More than two years after her daughter's death, JoAnn Klinglesmith still wishes that she and others had done more to protect Christine from her abuser and eventual killer. She daydreams about seeing Christine's beautiful brown eyes one more time.
She wonders what her daughter would have looked like as an expectant mother.
"I don't want this to happen to other women," said a teary Klinglesmith. "We need to help them take control before someone takes their life."
Chaos and cracks
Police crawled beneath a South Side trailer last month frantically searching for the man who gave Jenny a black eye.
Flashlights illuminated the fallout from the earlier fit of rage: a smashed car windshield, a snapped porch railing, upended furniture, the crushed telephone - its cord ripped from the wall.
He had crawled through a hole in the mobile home near Harmon Avenue to gain access to Jenny and her 18-month-old son. When police arrived, Jenny wasn't home. She had fled to a nearby White Castle restaurant. Police called her back home with news that her attacker was gone.
"He's crazy," Jenny said. "I've called the police many, many times."
Only some of those contacts have resulted in the man's arrest or help for Jenny, who asked that her last name not be printed because she fears for her safety.
In 2008, police agencies statewide reported that they made nearly 75,000 domestic-violence-related runs. But in more than 45 percent of those runs, they arrested no one.
Locally, the Columbus Division of Police, which requires its officers to receive domestic-violence training, fares better than the state average. In more than 6,600 runs last year, Columbus police made arrests in about 75 percent of domestic-violence cases, but only 46 percent of those arrests resulted in domestic-violence-related charges.
In some cases, police respond to a domestic-violence call and find a shouting match between family members.
In other cases, the batterer is gone. Sometimes, the victims have a change of heart after police arrive.
"Nine times out of 10 . . . you're going to make an arrest if the person alleging (abuse) is willing to fill out a witness statement," said Anthony Sebastiano, a Columbus police officer. "But they're only willing to give a statement 70 to 80 percent of the time."
Police never know how a victim is going to react.
"There are the ones that are thankful," said Sebastiano. "But there are victims that call you and you get there and you can establish probable cause and arrest, and all of a sudden, they're your worst enemy - jumping on your back screaming, 'No. No. I don't want him to go to jail.'"
Regardless of how police runs end, advocates want police officers to give victims information about where they can get help.
Police have made many runs to Jenny's house, and she has talked to prosecutors many times. Yet she still doesn't fully grasp how to protect herself or have the means to do so.
Jenny doesn't have enough money to move out of her home or see a doctor. She isn't working. She doesn't have health insurance. Both of her parents are dead. And her stepmother, despite her best efforts, can only help so much.
Jenny and her son continue to fall through the cracks. Four days after the incident, she had not been contacted by Franklin County Children Services.
Victims tell their stories
Law-enforcement agencies are required by law to report cases of domestic violence in the homes of children to local child-protective services.
Franklin County tries to make contact with victims within 24 hours of the attack, said Karen Setterlin, intake and investigation supervisor for babies and toddlers at the agency. But that only happens if they know where to go.
The goal is to make sure the children are safe and to help mothers get counseling. Children Services removes children from the home only in the most extreme cases.
Domestic violence is one of the top three threats to children, Setterlin said. She fields calls daily but had not received one regarding Jenny four days after the attack.
Jenny said her son was her main reason for breaking up with her batterer.
"He wants me to discipline him - like whip him," she said, shifting her son from her lap to the couch beside her. "I don't want to hit my kid."
She knows that what the toddler has seen already has made an impression.
Recognizing the word hit, the boy balled his hands into little fists. He pumped them in front of his face like a prize fighter, then turned adoringly to his mother and punched her arm.
"Don't hit mommy," she said, gently putting his fist down by his side.
"But Jenny," her stepmother said, "that's what he sees."
Nightmare after a beating
Courtroom testimony set an unreal scene in a Dublin home.
Shortly after Valentine's Day in 2007, Kelly Juntunen selected a bottle of wine to serve his fiance, Jessica. He opened the wine as she set chicken alfredo on the dining room table.
Around 9 p.m., they went to the basement for a quiet evening playing their new video game, Guitar Hero, which Juntunen bought with a birthday gift card from Jessica's parents.
Jessica played well and won an encore - the game randomly selected a song by Pearl Jam, one of Juntunen's favorites. He wanted to play that song and told her to pause the game.
But she couldn't find the pause button, and Juntunen got mad. He grabbed the guitar from Jessica and swung it into her forehead.
Over the next three hours or so, Juntunen punched her, pushed her into a wall, tackled her to the ground and bashed her face into the basement floor. He threw her into the bathroom wall hard enough to punch out a torso-shape hole and shoved her through the bathtub's sliding glass doors.
When police arrived, she thought the worst was over. But her nightmare had just begun.
Determined to publicly document his crime, Jessica spent the next 20 months pressing for justice.
"I was determined to push forward and do the right thing. No matter how long it took, to go the distance for the next woman, because it wasn't going to happen to me again," said Jessica, who asked that only her first name be used for the sake of her son and because many of her co-workers don't know about the incident. "I've been told that many of these cases never see the courtroom, and I couldn't let that happen to this one. Not after what he did to me."
Jessica's ordeal illustrates that domestic violence isn't limited to a particular income bracket or part of town. It shows how difficult it is to prove abuse, and it shows how elusive justice can be.
To the attorneys who prosecute batterers, Jessica, 28, was the perfect victim. She is well-educated, lives a suburban lifestyle, has a career, and her statement never wavered. She was someone jurors could relate to - their wife, their girlfriend, their daughter.
An untold number of domestic-violence cases fall apart because so much rides on the victims.
Some are alcoholics or drug users. Some have criminal histories. Some lie to police and prosecutors about how they were injured.
"When someone does come forward, we are so grateful," said Anne Murray, an assistant Columbus city prosecutor who heads the domestic-violence program.
But it's sometimes difficult to find a cooperative victim, even though they initiate the case when they call police.
The U.S. Supreme Court didn't make it any easier in 2004 when it ruled that "excited utterances" - statements made to police, neighbors or friends in the heat of the moment - cannot be used against a defendant charged with physical abuse. "You can get comments in only if the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine," said Murray.
Defendants know that if they can stop the victim or witness from testifying, they can get off.
Forty percent of the cases against Franklin County's worst domestic-violence offenders have crumbled for lack of evidence. That almost always means the victim refused to cooperate.
When prosecutors saw Jessica's injuries, Juntunen, 35, was charged with felonious assault, a felony that carries a sentence of two to eight years in prison.
He blamed her. He said she threw wine in his face because he jokingly called her a liar. He said that she was injured when he, blinded by the wine, pushed her away and she hit a wall. He said it was self-defense and that he was a victim.
Ultimately, the jury believed Jessica but did not convict Juntunen of a felony. Instead, they decided she had not suffered serious harm and that he had committed domestic violence - a misdemeanor.
As in so many cases of domestic violence, a batterer who was charged with a felony was ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor. Judge John F. Bender sent Juntunen away for as long as the law allowed - six months in jail.
"She ended up looking like a beat-up rag doll. I won't tolerate that, and neither will society," Bender said.
Six months wasn't enough for Jessica and her family. They were disappointed that Juntunen avoided a felony record.
"I just can't believe this. I can't believe this is justice," her mother said. "So someone can beat the hell out of you and get away with it?"