Monday, September 24, 2007

Domestic Violence and Divorce in Mississippi

Note: There are some very good comments at the end of the post.

Living by the Reservoir, Beth was a loving housewife who doted on her family. Although she was a nurse, she chose to stay at home to raise her son, as she did not believe in placing him in daycare. Beth had dated Rick, her husband, for several years before they married. They were married for five years when Christian was born. As he earned a comfortable income operating his own business, they were able to live in a nice house and enjoy a fairly high standard of living. To any observer, they were truly the ideal family living the American Dream.

After Christian was born, Rick began to show signs of abusive behavior, which was surprising as he had always treated her very well. He became more demanding. He began to scream at her. He gave her a list of things she had to do every day. At night he would check the list, yelling at her if it was not completed. He refused to help with the child, telling her that since she didn't work, that was her job. While in public he projected the image of the clean-cut successful businessman, at home he became a monster. He began to frequent strip clubs while at surfing the internet for online porn (she found the credit card statements). He was diagnosed with having a bipolar disorder, but refused to take his medicine, a course of action that is all too often chosen by too many patients who self-medicate.

The abuse grew worse until it exploded one weekend when Mike, his best friend, and Lacy, his wife, spent the weekend at their house. Beth and Lacy, went out on Saturday night. Beth came home late that night to an angry husband (the night before the guys had gone out late for their Boys night out) who started yelling and cursing at her at the top of his lungs, accusing her of screwing around and embarrassing him. Rick began to beat Beth with his fists. He knocked her to the ground, jumping on top of her, beating her over and over while yelling at her. His friend refused to intervene, telling her that sometimes he had to straighten his wife out. Finally Rick grabbed her head, banging it repeatedly on the tile floor. Beth was a mess, bloody, bruised all over, completely scared as she entered a hell beyond comprehension. While Rick was banging her head on the floor, Mike finally said that's enough and Rick stopped, arose, and went to another room. Rick and Mike then left for awhile. Beth grabbed her sleeping child (he was two years old at this time), not even stopping to clean herself up, and ran to a the house of a friend who lived nearby.

One hopes that after suffering such brutality, Beth was able to get protection from the criminal justice system. Sadly enough, this was not the case as the system turned out to be a complete joke. Leaving her child with her friend's mom, Beth's friend took her to the Sheriff's office where she tried to file charges against her husband and get protection. Unfortunately, they would not let her press charges even though she was bruised all over. The two women then went to the hospital where the doctor performed a complete exam and pictures were taken. Bruises covered her head and body. When one sees the pictures, one sees a deadness in her eyes, as if a light was snuffed out completely. The doctor then called the Sheriff's office, who sent an officer to take the report. Oddly enough, the officer turned out to be the same one who refused to take her complaint at the police station. This time however, he was forced to take the complaint.

Things became even worse for Beth. As her knee had a torn meniscus, requiring surgery, she was unable to work and thus depended on her husband for support. Her pressing charges and subsequent filing for divorce against Rick angered him even more. He obtained the services of one of the most expensive and ruthless divorce lawyers in Jackson. He continually stalked her. She had the locks to her house changed, only to find out while she was gone, he would call a locksmith to come, show his identification, claim he had locked himself out of the house, and obtain a key. He would then enter the house of his own accord, terrorizing her even further. He followed her around. When he could not follow her, private detectives would take up the slack. Beth lost almost all privacy as she became the hunted. Every opportunity, even picking up the child for visitation, to harass her was taken. When such exchanges occurred, Rick would show up with his new girlfriend, who videotaped everything even though it made the child cry, in an effort to antagonize Beth.

Rick took full advantage of Beth's inability to work. He had planned his finances for years accordingly in case he ever got divorced. While he owned his own business, he had arranged his accounts so that they were actually serviced by one owned by his parents and thus he was paid by his parents (He had a Master's degree in Accounting.) Most of his assets such as his two corvettes, were on paper owned by his parents even though he had paid for them. Such methods are common among spouses who seek to shield their assets in a divorce, as it is very hard under Mississippi law for a spouse to document that those assets belong to the other spouse even when he has full use and custody of them. He quit paying all bills, causing Beth even more problems. He was unaffected by these changes in their financial situation since all of his assets were held by his parents. He would later walk away from a huge amount of debt by filing bankruptcy. He personally had her Chevy Tahoe repossessed, stranding her and her son at his pre-school.

Meanwhile the Civil and Criminal Courts made a further folly of her predicament as the lawyers weaved their webs of motions, discovery, harassment, and at times, incompetence. Rick was eventually convicted of domestic assault in Justice Court. Rick then appealed to the Circuit Court. Bogus charges were later filed against her. A call to check on her son became phone harassment and verbal assault. Rick filed a criminal complaint, signed an affidavit, and Beth was arrested although later bonding out (It is not hard to file charges against someone in Mississippi). Beth became a wreck as she wondered when the hell would end. She was the victim yet her husband was able to destroy her life even further with the help of the legal system in Mississippi. For daring to stand up for herself after being beaten on the floor of her own bathroom, she was now forced to sit in jail for several hours until she posted bail. "Where was the justice?" she screamed at times.

Beth, who was not sophisticated at all when it came to legal matters, was represented by a lawyer who never bothered to obtain a temporary maintenance order (This provides for support and custody arrangements until the divorce is final) during the divorce proceedings, thus for over six months, she received no child support or alimony. The lawyer charged her nearly ten thousand dollars (which she paid with what remaining money she had on her credit cards) even though he never once filed for a TMO. This lawyer, who later became well known for sexual hijinks, filed a motion with the court to withdraw from the case when she was unable to pay him any more money. The judge rejected her argument that she was unable to support herself, much less pay for another lawyer (her knee still required surgery; the operation required $1500 in out of pocket expenses) and would be indigent if the motion was approved and granted his request. Beth was forced to depend on the charity of friends and family as she struggled to find another lawyer. Eventually, Beth would be forced to go on welfare just so she and her son would have food to eat.

Beth was finally able to retain lawyer, who "sympathized" with her plight and only charged her $1500. The only way she could pay the fee was that as a friend of hers was buying a new refrigerator, she paid for it with her remaining credit while he gave her the cash. Things got worse for Beth, who while expecting justice, received a vicious kick in the teeth. Beth refused to settle her case as every offer made by her husband demanded full custody of their son. Beth was determined to not let her husband abuse her son the way he had abused her, regardless of the sacrifice involved.

Although she had won a conviction against her husband in justice court for her savage beating, her lawyer negotiated it away in her divorce settlement. As she was completely broke, Beth was at the mercy of her attorney. She had no way of earning a living and was forced to take what she could get as her lawyer was unable to sue for Rick's assets. In the divorce settlement, there was a clause inserted stating no simple assault occurred in the marriage (there was a pending charge against him for a later incident). Her lawyer assured her, telling her that as simple assault and domestic assault were two separate offenses, the clause did not apply to the domestic assault charges. Beth signed the divorce settlement, which ordered joint custody of their child, paid for her knee surgery, and gave her some temporary alimony. Her lawyer said it was in her best interest and that they were going to seek to get it modified in later proceedings. It turned out that her lawyer, while not an expert on civil law, was even less of an expert on criminal law. Her lawyer told her to sign the settlement or else she would withdraw from the case.

To say fate can be cruel is an understatement. Our system of justice is predicated upon the belief that eventually a victim will get her day in court to seek justice against those who harmed her. After teasing Beth with the hope that justice would be served upon Rick for his brutality, Fate hurt her even more as Rick filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that in the signed divorced settlement, Beth had stated that no assault had occurred during the marriage. The judge ruled that the simple assault applied to all assault, reversing the conviction for domestic assault and dismissing the case. Rick looked at her, smiled gloatingly, and then laughed loudly outside of the courtroom, making sure she heard his taunts. Beth was completely crushed as she felt betrayed by the legal system. Beth was a harmless victim who sought protection from a barbaric husband, only to find herself nothing but a toy, a symbol of justice for women who fear for their lives in their own homes. For Beth it was hard to tell which hurt worse: the bruises from her beating or the laughter from Rick, knowing that he beat her and was able to get away with it.

Unfortunately, the miscarriage of justice did not stop with the dismissal. Bullies are usually encouraged to be more abusive when they are not punished for their misdeeds. Just as Hitler was encouraged by Munich, so was Rick encouraged by his escape from justice. Beth struggled on, had her surgery, and was able to survive although at great cost to her as her son faced further trauma. Rick remarried within three days of his divorce being final (It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out).

Following the pattern of most wife-beaters, Rick began to abuse his new wife. Christian returned from visitation weekends with his father, talking about how the police had come to his house after he and his wife had a physical argument. The first time, Rick was not arrested even though he threw things at his wife. Finally, he punched his wife in the face while she was pregnant in their front yard. He was arrested for this assault but once again, nothing of consequence happened to Rick other than the fact that he had to spend a few hours in jail until posting bail. He completed an anger management class as ordered by the court, avoiding any jail time or fine. Rick and Beth would later go back to court, each of them seeking full custody of Christian. Both Rick and his wife denied in court that he had been arrested for assaulting her or that he had punched her. This was refuted by the testimony of the arresting officer, who was called to the stand by Beth's new lawyer. Beth won full custody of her son, thanks to her ex-husband's lying on the stand, finally obtaining some relief from her nightmare.

All the events related in this post are true, unfortunately. This is a real case that occurred in the Jackson Metro area during the last five years. It shows what too many women, who are victims of abuse, face when they try to do the right thing and seek protection from society. Too often the police do not take it seriously, the judges order "anger management" or sentences that offer little to no punishment, and the laws favor the perpetrator of the violence. It is nearly impossible to decide which was more criminal: Beth's beating by her husband or her treatment by the criminal justice and legal systems.

12 comments:

AB said...

All too often this is the case. A woman stays home and cares for her family. A man takes care of the financial aspect and the woman the home. Far too many times the woman never has a clue about the family assets. She trusts that she and her children will be taken care of. Not the case ladies...Open the bank statements know what the investments are. Know the account numbers and investment companies. Have your own bank account and if possible continue your education.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, only the strong survive divorce. When I speak of survive I mean, financially. If you don't know what is there, how can you attain it?
With the divorce rate at 50% or better these days, "till death do us part" is rarely seen. Don't be caught in a situation of well, he took care of all of that...Think of your children and the life they deserve.
If you are abused then make a diary, tell someone and make a plan to GET OUT!! Once an abuser, always an abuser. I know it isn't easy to get out and I know of what I speak of. It can be done and he will not change nor can you change him. If you are in an abusive relationship, Children will not fix it and please don't bring innocent children into that dysfunctional hell. If you already have children, be smart and save yourself and your children. Take all the financial information you can get your hands on, bank statements, investment statements, payroll stubbs etc...GET OUT!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember my pain as if it were yesterday. The mashed potatoes weren't smooth enough so my head was banged against the wall repeatedly until I bled. I hung his pants in the wrong place in the closet so I received a punch in the stomach. I was constantly told that I was stupid and I would never amount to anything in this life. I was a worthless piece of ****! I was never allowed to spend money on myself although he bought a motorcycle without even telling me he had an interest in one. I was never allowed to have friends. I never knew what mood he would be in when he came home at the end of the day. One day I heard him drive up and I sprang to my feet for fear he would see me sitting. He walked in the door and proceeded to tear off my clothing. His nails tearing into my flesh. His grip was that of a thousand pounds leaving perfect finger marks on my arms from his clinch. He bent me over the dining table an began to pull my underwear to the floor. What happened next was the most humiliating and painful experience of my life. He had a problem with arousal so he pick up the first thing he could find to assault me with which was a minature baseball bat he had brought home from a night out with the boys at a braves game.
Having children is something I can never do now. I am 29 years old and my face looks like I am 50 from the beatings I took.
Although medical reports and testimony proved the abuse I suffered at his hands, he walked out of court laughing at my humiliation of re-living his torture. His comment to me as he passed me and the last words he ever spoke to me were, "You stupid bitch" you deserved it all.
There is no justice on this earth for what this man inflicted on me. At least not in a court of law. He had the money and I had nothing but my hands clinched begging for help which was met with men once again ripping me apart. But my prayer each night is that the Lord heard my crys and his punishment will be my justice.

Kingfish said...

2 questions:

1. What county was that in?

2. What was he sentenced if he was convicted?

I honestly don't know what to say. Alot of people read this blog and I can assure you that more than a couple will be praying for you. I can't think of the right words to say to a post like yours. I'm so sorry (as if that were enough, I know its not) that you suffered something like this. Trust me, he will get his. The subject of my post, well, he did screw eventually. they always do. He is now not allowed to see his kid from what I understand. Couldn't help himself and had to start hitting the kid as well. My point is, people like that have an arrogance that blinds them, eventually costing them.

Anonymous said...

I was made to look crazy and abusive of myself. His lawyer told the court that I had done these things to myself. I cried the entire time we were in court and he prevailed in the case. I was given my clothes and a divorce. He is one of the high society Rez bunch. He can do no wrong and will have many testify to his upstanding character. Money talks!!
As for the county, I think you can figure that out. As for the judge, I hope he burns in hell. I have never seen such a distaste for women. His words still ring in my head to this day.

Kingfish said...

Please do me a favor. I expect on this subject there will be more than one anonymous poster in comments so please mention that you are a different poster if posting anonymously. Thanks.

I assume you are the second poster. Yes, the story I wrote was based in Rankin County.

Alice said...

I can't imagine your pain. It's sad that our justice system is corrupt...and the many of the police as well. I've seen people go thru divorces and get hounded by the police.....How can we teach our children to respect authority when many can't be trusted....

Anonymous said...

I have made two posts today. One beginning; I remember my pain as if it were yesterday and the other beginning; I was made to look crazy and abusive of myself.
I hope this clears up the confusion.

Kingfish said...

Thanks. I'm glad you posted because the only way to improve things is through awareness.

AB makes a great point. Too many times women make no preparations at all. When they do need to leave, it is often with no money and few possessions whereas a few months of planning alot of times will cushion the change of circumstances somewhat.

I will say this. Alot of times the judge is blamed. I will ask who the lawyers on both sides are. Alot of times what you think are bad judges is really a case of a bad lawyer. There are alot of bad lawyers out there. There are also alot of good ones as well.

AB said...

Dear Anonymous,
I can only hope that with time you can find your way back to a fulfilling life without bitterness. Bitterness will eat you alive. I have spent a lot of time wondering why things happen the way they do and frankly can only summize that hardships allow us to grow and become stronger. I know what you see each time you close your eyes but you can heal from this. It wasn't your fault nor something you could have fixed. Surround yourself with supportive people and start your life anew. I wish you the best because you have lived the worst! Take care...

from the rez said...

Anonymous,
I add you to my prayers as I pray for Heather's family and others who are facing similar situations. I, being a survivor myself, know that domestic violence in more common in our neighborhoods than in the hood. AB offered great advice to conquer the bitterness by surrounding yourself with supportive and positive people. I would like to share an avenue that was healing and rewarding for me. There are several organizations in this area that offer awareness and support for victims of domestic violence. Even if your finances are limited, these groups have many ways in which you can be of service in helping women in similar situations. It is very rewarding when you know you have led a woman one step closer to freedom. As you lead these women, you also will find a sense of healing and freedom yourself. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

In 1984, I was 22 a mother of 2 and pregnant again. My boyfriend, upset because I wanted to leave, decided I should no longer be pregnant. I'd had black eyes before, stitches, etc but I was always too scared to fight him back. I never fought him back until that day. I won. I shot him and he died. As many times as I had called the police, the neighbors called the police but when they came, they would just "talk" to him. Needless to say they prosecuted me. I received 5 years of probation for manslaughter but 24 years later I'm still his victim. I can't get a decent job because I have a criminal record. Just sharing my tragedy.

Kingfish said...

What county was this in?

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In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.


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