Signs almost always precede deadly domestic violence cases
By Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic
10 June 2012
PHOENIX – Pamela Blaies handed her daughter a pamphlet on domestic violence, opening it in her hands to point out specific signs of an abusive relationship.
"Look at this. Look at all this. See this? This is you," Pamela told 28-year-old Amanda Blaies-Rinaldi.
"… your partner controls everything.
… your partner calls you names or yells at you.
… your partner shoves, pinches, hits, punches, kicks or otherwise hurts you.
… your partner destroys your belongings.
… your partner threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets."
Amanda's 2 1/2-year relationship with her husband, Anthony, had been tumultuous: screaming fights, holes punched through walls, calls to police. He had threatened to kill himself, and her, and her mother as well. But Amanda was certain he'd never actually go that far. Especially not with the children in the house. And not just before Christmas. Amanda gave the pamphlet back to her mother and told her not to worry.
Two days later, Amanda was dead.
"She is definitely dead," her husband, Anthony Rinaldi, then 26, reportedly told authorities when he turned himself in. "I put two to the chest and one to the head."
Actually, the former Army sniper had put two bullets in his wife's chest and three in her head, her mother would later learn from prosecutors. The sound of the gunshots reverberated up the stairs. There, Amanda's 7-year-old son called 911 over the hollers of his baby brother.
Amanda's death on 13 December was one of at least 101 domestic violence-related deaths in the state in 2011. Of those, 59 involved guns.
This year, two recent incidents of domestic killings that claimed five victims each, each involving children, have dominated the news.
But those incidents were only a fraction of the total. Not even halfway into 2012, at least 48 people have died; at least 31 of those were shot to death. The numbers are consistent, roughly 100 a year, year after year.
The numbers are compiled by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and include a broad range of types of incidents.
But when someone talks about domestic violence — and when experts study it — the focus is on a classic pattern in which a person, usually a man, eventually kills his partner.
A landmark 2003 study by a team of international researchers, led by Jacquelyn Campbell at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and published in the National Institute of Justice Journal, compared two groups of battered women. One group included 220 who had been killed by their partners; the other group included 343 who had been abused, but not killed.
What the researchers pinpointed was that where a history of domestic violence exists, certain other factors vastly increase the likelihood that a victim will be killed.
Battered women who have been threatened or assaulted with a gun — even once — are 20 times as likely than other battered women to be murdered.
Other factors that can increase a victim's risk are substance abuse, unemployment, depression, abuse during pregnancy, any kind of estrangement, and the presence of a stepchild. For people in the field, the study — and the danger assessment tool it was based on — is the definitive guide for assessing risk in domestic-violence situations.
The checklist of those signs is so remarkably consistent that intake workers at domestic-violence shelters use the criteria to establish what danger a woman faces, and Phoenix police officers ask similar questions when they go out on roughly 14,000 domestic-violence calls every year.
"It would be rare for something like this to happen with no previous record of domestic violence," says Carl Mangold, a licensed social worker who counseled more than 3,500 men convicted of abuse in Arizona between 1996 and 2006. He now trains others to work with offenders through the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
There is a pattern in incidents that end fatally, he says. A man becomes violent, and blames the victim. She tries to resist, and his abuse escalates. She attempts to end the relationship, and he punishes her for her defiance. The warning signs are there.
They were there before May 2 — the day, police say, J.T. Ready shot and killed four people.
The twice court-martialed Marine, border vigilante and admitted white supremacist with a history of soured relationships killed his 47-year-old girlfriend, Lisa Mederos; her daughter, Amber, 23; Amber's fiance, Jim Hiott, 24; and Amber's daughter, Lilly, who was 15 months old. He then killed himself. And in February, Lisa Mederos had called police to complain that Ready had choked her six months earlier. The report went nowhere, police said, because they had no probable cause for an arrest.
The warning signs were there in the case of Christina Alvarez. The 32-year-old was shot and killed in Phoenix on May 29, her three children in the next room.
The warning signs were there in the case of Tekesha Barnes, shot outside a school event for her eighth-grade daughter May 25.
The warning signs were there in the case of Claudia Pascual, 31, shot in her Tucson home the day before Valentine's Day.
And the warning signs were there for Amanda Blaies-Rinaldi.
The majority of domestic-violence cases do not turn deadly. Neil Websdale, a Northern Arizona University criminology and criminal-justice professor for 20 years, has worked to document how it happens in those that do.
Almost always, a history of a certain kind of abusive behavior is the first, most important indicator.
Websdale has studied police reports, restraining orders, arrests and convictions in the kind of abuse that researchers call "intimate partner terrorism," or "coercive control."
Coercive control is almost exclusively the domain of men. It is long-term and tyranical abuse that includes, often in addition to physical violence, attacks on a woman's self-worth, degrading remarks and obsessive monitoring of her whereabouts and her contact with other people.
Websdale also finds that many men kill in a state of what he calls "humiliated fury," shame that has gone into overdrive for any number of reasons: She is moving out and he is losing control of her, for instance, or he has lost his job and is drinking more.
"It's about manhood and failing to live up to prescriptions of modern-day masculinity," he says.
An escalation of abuse is typical just before a battered woman is killed, he notes. There will be more broken bones, more cracked teeth. More calls to 911.
Combine escalating abuse with the presence of a gun and the risk goes even higher.
When a woman calls the Sojourner Center, a domestic-violence shelter for women where the 224 beds are always full, one of the first questions she is asked is whether her abuser has access to a gun.
That question not only helps the shelter gauge necessary security measures at the shelter, says Connie Phillips, the center's director, but also helps the woman understand how much danger she may be in. Victims often minimize the risk they face as a means of coping with abuse from day to day.
A gun is a powerful weapon as much for its ability to intimidate as to kill.
"You don't even have to point it at her," Phillips says. It doesn't matter if it is a handgun he fires at the range on weekends or a rifle he takes hunting. He only has to clean it in front of her, put it on the bedside nightstand as she sleeps, or carry it on his hip to make a point.
Some hold guns to their partners' heads and pull the trigger in a tormenting, Russian-roulette-style game. In 18 years at the center, Phillips has heard versions of that story hundreds of times.
"It's just another way of showing 'I have power. You don't,'" she says.
Phillips tells of a woman who was shot by her abuser but survived.
He said he was sorry of course, apologizing again and again. He promised it would never happen again. When he brought her home from the hospital, he took good care of her. And then one day she felt the muzzle against her head again.
The chamber had been empty. She breathed again, and this time she got out.
The full article is available here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-06-10/domestic-violence-s...