S.C. domestic violence victims remembered

More than a year after her 33-year-old son was stabbed to death at his girlfriend's West Columbia home, Doris Robinson still feels the pain.

"Oh, Jesus," the Richland County woman said, crying, pounding her fist into her other hand. "Just when you think you've gotten through the hardest, it never ends."

Robinson carried a life-size silhouette of a person representing her son during Monday's "Silent Witness" program to remember 40 women and 10 men who died in domestic violence incidents last year in South Carolina.

The annual program, held on the south steps of the State House, was sponsored by the S.C. attorney general's office. It coincides with the start of the national Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

South Carolina ranks seventh in the U.S. in the rate of women killed by men, according to the most recent study by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. The Palmetto State consistently has ranked in the top 10 nationally in recent years.

"It's hard to keep it a secret when we have as many people as we do in South Carolina dying at the hands of their loved ones," Attorney General Henry McMaster said during the ceremony.

McMaster said victims of domestic violence later can become batterers themselves, noting, "Violence is the parent and the child of violence."

The 50 domestic violence killings last year were 18 more than in 2005 and six more than in 2004, according to the attorney general's office.

Robinson's son, Tarquinius Leonard Russell, was fatally stabbed July 23, 2006, during an argument with his girlfriend, Beulah Butler, West Columbia police said. Butler, who is charged with murder, is awaiting trial.

The attorney general's office identified two domestic violence killings in Lexington County last year. Both victims were men.

The number of men who died in such incidents last year was 10 -- double the number from 2005 and three more than in 2004, when the attorney general's office first began including male victims.

Most domestic violence victims, however, are women.

Suspects have not been tried in 28 of the 50 cases, according to the attorney general's office. That is especially frustrating to Robinson, who said she still doesn't have a trial date from the 11th Circuit solicitor's office.

"I've written letters to the governor, senators," she said. "It's misjustice, no justice."

In nine cases last year, suspects were convicted of charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to murder and received sentences ranging from 18 months of home detention up to life in prison, according to the attorney general's office.

In 11, or nearly a quarter of the cases last year, the alleged perpetrators killed themselves after murdering their victims. Vicki Bourus, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said that percentage mirrors national trends.

"It just highlights the level of desperation," she said. "It reinforces the need to intervene early."

In nearly two-thirds of last year's cases, victims were killed with guns. Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, who attended Monday's ceremony with several other lawmakers, said a new state law is needed -- mirroring existing federal law -- that would make it a crime for convicted batterers to own handguns. Attempts in recent years to pass state legislation have failed.

"It makes sense; it's already federal law," said Lourie, who supported earlier bills. "We have a history in this country of resolving conflicts with handguns."

Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims' Council, said before Monday's ceremony that she hopes a state legislative study committee on domestic violence will recommend a law allowing prior domestic violence convictions in other states to be counted against a defendant convicted of a similar offense in South Carolina.

Under a state law that was beefed up two years ago, repeat offenders face stiffer penalties. Defendants convicted of third and subsequent domestic violence offenses, for example, face one to five years in prison.

"It is a modus operandi (for convicted batterers) to move from state to state to avoid that," Hudson said.

McMaster said after the ceremony he hopes counties statewide will begin to designate special domestic violence courts at the magistrate level, where most cases are tried. McMaster last year successfully pushed the Legislature to fund special domestic violence prosecutors at the magistrate level.

Nancy Barton, executive director of Sistercare Inc., which operates three battered women's shelters in the Midlands, said before the ceremony that funding for shelters statewide continues to be an issue, noting her organization turned away 135 women and children last year.

In her keynote address, Barbara J. Johnson, a longtime Sistercare volunteer, recounted how her late mother endured years of physical abuse by her father, who also is deceased. She said police were never called to her childhood home in Maryland.

"I just feel so much pain when I think of my mother. It is our responsibility to help families and to help communities rid society of this terrible crime."

The names of three people from York County were heard during Monday's roll call at the Silent Witness Domestic Violence ceremony in Columbia. The ceremony marks the beginning of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Locals remembered were:

• Carlos Latta, then 35, stabbed and killed Dec. 31, 2006. Charged with murder is Iris Gilmore, who is awaiting trial. Latta is survived by a daughter.

• Sherry Mobley, then 33, stabbed Jan. 27, 2006, by her ex-boyfriend. She died three days later after surgery. Darren Jones pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a 30-year sentence. Mobley is survived by two sons and two daughters.

• Shavon Turman, then 24, shot and killed July 16, 2006. Her boyfriend, Eric Crawford, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and is serving a 30-year sentence. Turman is survived by her son.