The wrong direction

Would higher bonds reduce SC's worst-in-the-nation ranking on criminal domestic violence?

nophillips@thestate.comSeptember 25, 2013 

  • Coming up

    Tuesday: The 16th Annual Silent Witness Ceremony will be at 11 a.m. on the south steps of the state capitol. The program, sponsored by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, recognizes men and women killed in 2012 in domestic violence cases.

    Oct. 12: Columbia’s annual Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence begins at 9 a.m. at Finlay Park, 930 Laurel St., in Columbia. To register for the free event, visit

  • Local domestic violence

    In York, Chester and Lancaster counties in 2011, four reported domestic homicides were reported, three of which involved a man alleged to have killed a woman:

    • Linda Lee Hertzog, 54, of Fort Mill, was killed Jan. 5. Her boyfriend was charged with murder.

    • Linda Anne Dixon, 53, of Sharon, was shot and killed on March 14 by her boyfriend, who then shot and killed himself.

    • Shrece Charlete Robinson, 25, of Rock Hill, was shot and killed on May 21. Her boyfriend was charged with murder.

    • Also, Michael Howe, 44, of York, was shot and killed on Oct. 11, 2011. His girlfriend was charged with murder.

    “Obviously, domestic violence has been an issue in South Carolina for some time,” said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. “They’re very difficult cases to prosecute.”

    They’re tough, he said, because between the time a charge is filed and the court date, defendants tend to make “overtures” to the victim, apologizing for their behavior and promising never to do it again.

    “Next thing you know, it happens again,” Brackett said, often more severe – even escalating to homicide.

    To address the problem, the Legislature in 2011 approved money to hire prosecutors dedicated to prosecuting domestic violence cases in court. Before, police officers prosecuted first-offense domestic violence cases, he said.

  • More information

    Jonathan McFadden

  • Men killing women

    South Carolina was ranked as the state with the highest homicide rate among women killed by men in the Violence Policy Center’s annual report on domestic homicide. The ranking is based on 2011 data reported to the FBI by individual states. Florida and Alabama did not provide data.

    In some cases, the Violence Policy Center report’s authors could not determine the relationship between the killer and the victim, the weapon used or other details such as age and race. Those gaps in data explain the discrepancies in some numbers.

    The report found the following in South Carolina:

    61 women were killed by men.

    56 were killed by someone they knew.

    33 were slain by husbands, ex-husbands, common-law husbands and boyfriends.

    4 were killed by strangers.

South Carolina once again has been ranked the worst in the nation when it comes to men killing women.

The state’s 2.54 per 100,000 rate of females murdered by males was more than double the national average, according to a report released Tuesday by the Violence Policy Center in Washington. The ranking was based on 2011 crime data that showed 61 women in South Carolina were reported killed at the hands of men.

The ranking brought another round of outrage and vows for a renewed push to change the trend.

One idea offered by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is changing a law that puts a cap on the size of a bond that magistrate judges can set for criminal domestic violence suspects.

In South Carolina, the maximum bond for a first-time criminal domestic violence arrest is $5,000, Wilson said. That means a man arrested for beating his wife can get out of jail for $500 or less, Wilson said.

If the Legislature would raise the cap on the maximum bond allowed, it would keep people in jail longer, giving them a “cooling-off period,” Wilson said.

This year is the third time the Violence Policy Center has ranked South Carolina in the top spot in the past 10 years, said Rebecca Williams-Agee of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Last year, South Carolina ranked second in the annual report.

“It’s never-ending,” Williams-Agee said. “It’s just really exhausting.”

Wilson, whose office has a section of prosecutors and advocates focused on violence against women, said he was “reeling from the numbers.” He met Wednesday with staff members who prosecute domestic violence cases and who lobby for change at the General Assembly.

“It’s inexcusable,” Wilson said. “We can’t do enough to fight this. By the way, these aren’t just numbers. These are people.”

The Midlands in 2011 was witness to some of the most high-profile domestic violence deaths in recent memory. Three were murder-suicides, and a fourth involved a young USC professor who was stabbed to death.

In January 2011, Victoria Williamson Tindall of Pelion was shot to death by her estranged husband, who then turned a shotgun on himself. In March 2011, Amanda Peake of Red Bank was shot by an ex-boyfriend, who also killed her 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter before killing himself. And in May 2011, Amanda Ruth Jarrard of Columbia was shot by her husband who then shot himself.

That year also brought the stabbing death of USC education professor Jennifer Wilson, whose ex-boyfriend is awaiting trial on a murder charge in Richland County. For years, domestic violence experts had said that violence against women knows no socio-economic boundaries, and they said Wilson’s killing was a grim reminder of that message.

Colleen Campbell Bozard, interim executive director of the S.C. coalition against domestic violence, used the report as a call to action.

“It is our hope that this report will be a call to action for the leadership of South Carolina and its citizens to recognize the seriousness of the problem in our state and begin to work collaboratively to find real solutions that improve the safety and lives of women in our state,” she said in a press release.

The Violence Policy Center’s report said guns were the most common weapon used to kill women. Researchers could not always identify the weapon used, but a gun was used in about 51 percent of the 1,551 cases where they could confirm the weapon used. In South Carolina, 31 women were shot to death in 2011, the report said.

Studies indicate that domestic violence and guns are a deadly combination, Williams-Agee said.

Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning or possessing a gun. But Wilson said that law rarely keeps firearms out of the hands of violent men.

“Unfortunately, someone capable of murder is capable of breaking the law that prohibits them from owning a gun,” he said.

Those who work to reduce domestic violence offered a number of ideas to change the state’s direction.

Williams-Agee said South Carolinians need to change how they talk about domestic violence and put pressure on men to stop assaulting women. Rather than question why a woman stays in an abusive relationship, people should ask why an offender is so violent, she said.

“But that’s not the question we ask first,” she said.

The domestic violence coalition takes educational programs into the state’s schools to teach children of all ages about personal boundaries and conflict resolution without violence, Williams-Agee said.

She also said existing criminal domestic violence laws need to be enforced with maximum punishments given to offenders.

“If we don’t hold them accountable, we’re telling victims their abuse isn’t important and we’re also telling perpetrators that it’s OK,” she said.

To reduce the domestic-homicide rates, everyone in authority needs to do what they can to change South Carolina’s direction, Wilson said.

“We’ve all got to take responsibility for the numbers,” he said.

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