Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Petersburg DV Shelter shelter director speaks out on murder of mother (Clearwater, Florida)

I'm glad to see that the executive director of CASA, a St. Petersburg domestic violence shelter, is speaking out on the murder of Laura Taft, "allegedly" by CRAIG WALL, the father of her now dead infant son. Too often shelter administrators are afraid to rock the boat, and this has got to stop if we want to see an end to this kind of court-enabled carnage.

Father of Laura Taft's baby suspected in her murder
Kathryn Bursch 8 hrs ago

Clearwater, Florida - Early Wednesday morning Clearwater Police found Laura Taft dead in her doorway. Investigators say Craig Wall, the father of the couple's baby, is their suspect.

"The neighbor in a nearby apartment heard an argument and called police and we got here and the victim had been stabbed," said police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts.

Taft, 29, was clearly afraid of Wall. In a request for a domestic violence injunction on February 8th she writes, "Craig has a very, very bad temper...Craig has always said if I leave him he would kill me."

Taft got that injunction; it didn't help.

"It's a piece of paper; it doesn't stop a fist, it doesn't stop a bullet," says Linda Osmundson, the executive director of CASA, a St. Petersburg domestic violence shelter.

On February 5th, the couple's 5-month-old son was brought to the hospital unresponsive. A day later the baby died. He'd been in Wall's care.

Clearwater Police say the baby's death is still under investigation and they have not called Wall a suspect. However, Taft thought Dad had something to do with it. That's one of the reasons she wanted an injunction.

During the baby's memorial service on Sunday, police say Wall broke that injunction by driving by the church and "flipping off" Taft's mother.

Father Edward Sellers led the memorial service that day. He says tensions mounted when Wall drove by the church.

"I didn't see the car but Laura spotted it immediately. She ran to the glass doors [of the church] for fear he was coming in," said Sellers.

Police arrested Wall for violating the injunction. In newly released surveillance video from the jail, you can hear Wall complaining to deputies when he said, "I don't understand how the legal system allows her to do this. They're locking me up and I got this on my record, for what? For making a u-turn at my son's funeral? Telling somebody to go in for me because she's got this restraining order so I can't go to my son's memorial? That's crazy, man. Its nuts."

Despite Wall's 14-year stint in prison and Taft's fear, Judge George Jirotka set bail at only $1,000.

"With those kinds of priors, with a guy that was in prison and this situation, I think a thousand dollar bond is pretty low," says Osmundson. "The judges need to realize how serious these cases are."

Through a court spokesman Judge Jirotka declined to comment on the case or his actions.

However, the State Attorney's office could have also asked for a much higher bond. Prosecutors requested $2,500 and that office is now looking into how it handled the case.

Clearwater Police also had the option of urging the judge to set a high bond to keep Wall in jail, but no officers spoke up. Watts says despite the ongoing child death investigation, the department did not feel that Taft was in danger, because there had been no previous history of domestic violence.

Victims or their representatives can also be heard by the judge at bond hearings. Court officials say no one did that.

Osmundson says sometimes in these cases the decision makers do not have all the necessary information and Taft may have paid the ultimate price. "We need to protect her and we as a system don't do that."

A few hours after the murder, Wall was found by Sumter County deputies unresponsive in his car. They had to break the driver's window to get him out of the vehicle. Wall is now at Citrus Memorial Hospital. The reason for his stay has not been released, but he is expected to survive.

Clearwater detectives went to Sumter County to question Wall. Eventually he will be brought back to Pinellas to face charges.

We connected with Taft's family members in Clearwater and Largo but they declined to say more than this is a very difficult day.

Back at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, Father Sellers says many of Taft's friends and coworkers showed up at the church for the early Ash Wednesday service and lit two candles in memory of the two lives lost just two weeks apart.