This is the third in a series of posts about what I learned at the all-day workshop sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Intimate Partner Violence Education and Prevention Committee.
The third session was given by Jan Egge and was titled My Sister's Story: Murder of a Family Member.
Egge's sister, Kerri Marie Robinson was murdered on January 30, 2006 by her boyfriend as she was in the final stages of leaving the Minnesota farm where she had lived for the previous 8 months. He shot her twice, making good on his threats.
This session was more powerful than I can convey. Egge continues to speak out about her sister's abuse and murder despite her obvious grief and pain because she wants to prevent this from happening to other people.
Egge began by having us close our eyes and envisioning a woman we loved (other than a partner) and then she had us envision that woman in her sister's shoes in those last desperate moments of her life as she was shot first trying to leave and then shot a second time as she tried to use a pool table as a shield.
Up to this moment in the workshop, IPV was something talked about in general terms and despite the information about thousands of IPV murders each year nationwide there wasn't a sense of urgency. This session brought the needed urgency into the room. A missed screening opportunity which could be followed up by a referral and a safety plan could end with another murder as senseless as this one.
But the good news is that with the additional health care providers who can now screen for IPV and provide victims with needed referrals or safety plans, an untold number of lives will be saved. As this view of IPV as a health care issue gains wider acceptance and is accompanied by competency in screening and referrals, even more lives can be saved.
The first time Egge knew there were advocates available to help was after her sister was murdered. That's something that needs to change and with increased screening by health care professionals, others who are victims of IPV may get referrals to resources and help making a safety plan in time to stop the violence through an outcome better than death.
To get a small sense of the power of this session, I suggest reading this Fox News story which focuses on how animal abuse and the ongoing threat to harm animals was used as a way to control Egge's sister. That story talks about how is at least one organization in Minnesota which will care for the animals of women who go into a local shelter so concern for those animals won't keep people locked in dangerous situations after they have decided that they must leave.
Update: I got an email from Jan Egge and she let me know that the video of her interview can be seen on fox9news.com.
Go to the bottom of the home page and click on investigative reports. Then scroll down just a tad on the left, you will see their archives. Scroll way to the bottom of this. The title of the piece is 'Animal Pawns of Domestic Violence' and aired on May 11th, 2007.
Since neither Egge nor her sister were aware that anyone would or could provide shelter for her, they wouldn't have known that anyone would provide shelter to Robinson's animals.
The role of animals in people's decision to stay in dangerous situations isn't unique to IPV. This was seen in Hurricane Katrina where public evacuation efforts specifically excluded animals. The needless loss of human and animal life led to a change in evacuation processes so that pets were included in public evacuation plans for Hurricane Ike and were handled in a way where the animal could be reunited with its owner.
The same change in thinking and policy needs to be done in IPV. This change would need to include what costs and crimes are covered under reparations regarding IPV to protect the safety of people and animals.
Too often someone who promises to kill another person isn't considered to be a criminal who has made a terroristic threat and this action results in at most a successful application for an order of protection.
If the state of Minnesota reimbursed the cost of housing Robinson's animals in an emergency and for a sufficient length of time for her to find permanent housing which accepted pets or a permanent location for her horses that would be far less expensive than the cost of the murder trial, the appeal and the incarceration of Robinson's murderer who was given a life sentence.
Robinson's murder highlights some of the extra dangers faced by victims of IPV who live in rural areas. When a vehicle is sabotaged or not available the options for getting to safety go way down.
Egge talked about how often her sister's murderer exhibited classic abuser behavior and thinking before and after the murder. During the trial Robinson's murderer smirked at Egge and her family when the judge and jury weren't in the courtroom and then switched off the arrogance when he knew the judge was about to enter the courtroom and maintained that facade until the judge and jury left.
This behavior demonstrates that he was a person in control who had strong rationalizations for his violence. He was not someone who loses control. That contrast of behavior was there before Robinson's family knew about the abuse.
This contrasting behavior often causes people who know someone who is violent in private to have trouble believing that the wonderful person they see could be committing IPV.
A Findlaw article on the appeal, which I found through a Google search, shows that Robinson's murderer positioned himself as the victim of the woman he murdered and as a victim of his ex-wife. He didn't deny committing the murder but did deny all previous occurrences of abuse and he claimed that he "went delirious" and "had no control" because he claimed that Robinson threatened to make a false accusation against him.
This claim of having no control is classic abuser strategy. So too is the abuser's effort to blame his victim for his violent actions. He was just reacting and never planning despite having issued murder threats which this time he carried out.
It wasn't mentioned in the session, but the Findlaw article describes how this man during his marriage, prior to meeting Robinson, was abusive and one time went out to his truck, fired a shot into the air and then slumped over the steering wheel as if he killed himself. That is someone who is a master of manipulation.
The article also relates that after shooting Robinson twice and killing her, he left the farm, confessed to friends and then shot himself in the shoulder.
This self-inflicted shooting was described as a suicide attempt by the defense attorney, but someone who clearly knows where to aim to kill isn't going to try to commit suicide by shooting himself in the shoulder. This appears to be more manipulation so that people will see him as distressed to the point of suicide. If he succeeded, he might have been convicted only of manslaughter and not murder.
After his conviction for first-degree manslaughter and first-degree murder (domestic abuse), he was sentenced to life in prison. In the appeal of that conviction, his attorney wanted the conviction to be overturned in part because the faked suicide (during his marriage) was ruled admissible during the trial.
Fortunately, the conviction was upheld even though one judge ruled that the ex-wife's OFP (order for protection) shouldn't have been admitted into evidence while other judges dissented since the OFP supported the ex-wife's claim that she was the victim of IPV and not the perpetrator of it as Robinson's murderer claimed during his trial.
Also referenced in the Findlaw article is that the defense tried to blame this man's military service in Iraq for his decision to shoot Robinson twice. Everybody but him were to blame for his actions.
Most of what Egge and others knew which supported the claim that this was a premeditated murder and not some temporary loss of control weren't admissible evidence.
There are clearly changes needed in the way the court systems deal with domestic violence to prevent murders like this one. Too often those who are assaulted sometimes to the point of attempted murder get nothing more than an order of protection to help keep them safe.
One woman, like this man's ex-wife got out alive, but the underlying pattern of thinking and behavior belonged to him which put an unsuspecting woman's life in danger and ultimately led to this man's decision to commit murder.
Egge and her family continue to ask themselves, "Could we have done more?" But the burden shouldn't be borne only by the families of those abused and murdered.
We all need to ask ourselves, "Can we do more to prevent intimate partner violence and all other forms of domestic violence?"
The spectrum of prevention which includes influencing policy and legislation was included in the next session. Health care responses are a necessary part of "doing more" but they are not a sufficient response which can prevent or stop IPV on their own.
The full spectrum of prevention needs to be in place. That full spectrum needs all of us to be part of the solution. If all of us take on a small part of this effort, the burden will be shared and fewer people will feel the overwhelming burden of wondering, "Could we have done more?"
Labels: Violence Against Women