Tragedy in the home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

The list is alarming.

An Ironton woman was stalked and killed the day she left a troubled marriage. Her estranged husband then turned the gun on himself, leaving three children without a mother or a father.

A Kitts Hill man was sentenced to prison this week after he pleaded guilty to stalking his ex-wife and violently beating her.

Email newsletter signup

Local authorities arrested an eastern Lawrence County man after he allegedly broke into his ex-wife's house, raped and beat her.

Soon an Ironton man will stand trial for allegedly killing his ex-girlfriend and two other area residents.

Domestic violence advocates hope the attention given to recent local cases will send the message that domestic abuse is an all-too-prevalent occurrence in our community, and that the problem of domestic violence is in fact everybody's problem.

The problem

"The loss of life in this county over the last year has been staggering," Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force Director Ruthanne Delong said.

She has a point: The death of Lana Holbrook, of Ironton, last month, was the result of a domestic dispute.

The deaths of three people in the Lyle Motel fire last summer reportedly was the result of a spurned romantic relationship. An Ironton man, Tommy Keaton was arrested in September 2004 and charged in connection with the death of his step-father, Robert Gore.

Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton said his office alone receives an average of 25 domestic violence reports every month. This figure does not include domestic cases handled by the county's municipal police departments.

Is domestic violence a problem in Lawrence County? Both Sexton and Delong say yes.

Delong said it is a bigger problem that most people realize. It is a problem many people will not admit to.

"I dealt with a man last week that was 72 years old. He had beaten up his ex-wife. They had been divorced for a number of years. But in his mind it was okay.

"I said to her (the victim) you don't need this, he has no right to come to your home and act as if he owns it and owns you. Nobody deserves this. Nobody deserves to suffer at the hands of a male who thinks they have a right to do this to you," Delong said.

"I had a man (inmate) stand in the jail just the other day and tell me 'these women don't need laws to protect them," Delong said. "The way he said it was that women do not need to be protected. We don't need laws on the books regarding domestic violence."

Sexton pointed out that domestic abuse is more than acts of violence by husbands against wives. It is any act of violence involving people in a domestic relationship.

"We've had several calls involving children (acting) against their parents, children against each other," he said.

Danger for everyone

"Domestic violence cases are tough," Sexton said. "Often you get to the scene and there are kids involved. Sometimes you find two people angry. I wish there wasn't such a thing as domestic violence. It has an effect on children, on family life."

It can be dangerous for law enforcement officers as well. The anger that is unleashed on family members is often unleashed on the person who comes to the victim's rescue.

"These cases can be very dangerous," Sexton said.

"As the officer responds to these calls, they can become complicated and can become deadly very quickly. It's not uncommon for both parties to get upset when the officer makes an arrest."

Solving the problem

Delong said she hopes the recent incidents will serve as a wakeup call that domestic abuse is a genuine problem in the community, but that there is hope for those who suffer at the hands of their loved ones.

Delong said she would like to see more abusers hauled into court to answer for their actions and for those abusers to spend more time behind bars. Currently, the victim can ask the courts to drop charges that have been filed against the abuser. Delong said she wishes that would change as well.

"I would like to see the county go with a no-drop policy. That way, it removes the responsibility from the victim to do something on their behalf. The state says we don't need the victim's help to file charges," Delong said. "A lot of times, victims will ask that charges be dropped because they fear for their safety. "

Delong said she would like to see those arrested for domestic violence kept in jail without bond until their arraignment. This would provide a cooling off period for the abuser, and provide an opportunity for the victim to seek whatever help he or she may need to get out of the abusive situation.

More than anything, Delong would like to see the

cycle of violence acknowledged and ended, one person at a time.

"We've got to educate people from children up that this is against the law and its wrong. We have to break this mode that little boys have to be tough and little girls have to be submissive. This is the 21st century and we need to move into the 21st century."

Justice was served

It was nearly three years in coming, but in the end, justice was served for a Lawrence County man accused of savagely beating his ex-wife.

John F. Wright, 35, of Kitts Hill will spend five years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree assault. He was accused of running Rachel Williamson's car off the road while she was traveling on Interstate 64 near the Boyd-Carter county line in August 2002. He then beat her severely and damaged her vehicle while their children watched.

Williamson suffered a broken cheekbone, a dislocated eye and a torn ear. She spent a week in the hospital after the incident, and has undergone several surgeries since to repair the damage Wright inflicted.

If he had not pleaded guilty, Wright faced 45 years in prison on that charge and numerous counts of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief that were dropped in exchange for the plea.

"The evidence was there to convict him and he knew it. Now she (Williamson) can move on with her life,"

Delong said. "This is validation for all victims."

The Carter County case against Wright was delayed several times over the years. Wright maintained his innocence and fought to stay out of jail. He also spent nine months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in connection with a money order scheme.

Williamson was in the Carter County Circuit Courtroom the day Wright was sentenced.

"I felt so relieved," she said. "I wish he would have pleaded guilty before then. My daughter had to testify and she was on the witness stand about an hour and 25 minutes."

Williamson and Delong both praised Carter County Commonwealth's Attorney David Flatt, Carter County Circuit Judge Samuel Long and staff at both offices for their work in serving justice that was long overdue.

Williamson also praised Delong for "going above and beyond the call of duty to help me. She really went out of her way and was there for me the whole time," she said.

"What you do you have to pay for," Williamson said about the outcome of her ordeal. "It took three years, it took time. But he didn't get by with it."