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Murder by Leniency? Another Reason We Need To Stop Treating Domestic Violence Like Domestic Violence


There once was a time when feminist activists tried to make the courts respond to domestic violence the way they respond to violence between strangers.  This was a very good impulse, both morally and rationally, and also in terms of making our justice system operate equitably (in the “equal,” not “social justice” sense of the term “equitable”).

You shouldn’t serve less time for stabbing someone just because she is your wife or was once your wife.  Or your husband.

The law shouldn’t make exceptions for people based on their identities.  Criminal acts should be the only factor determining punishment.  Of course, there is manslaughter and there is murder; crimes of passion and random violence; there are many factors to be considered when two people live together and the relationship is a violent one.  But the goal of making the criminal act, not the relationship, the deciding factor for the punishment is and always has been a good goal.

Those early domestic violence advocates were dealing with a judicial system that did, until surprisingly recently, make it exceedingly difficult to put violent offenders behind bars if the targets of their violence were their own family members.  Things are better now.  They aren’t perfect.  They’re more equal.  The overall path has been towards equality.  And as I write this, I know I will hear from people who feel they were given a raw deal because they are men and the feminists have taken over the courts, so let me say this up front: I happen to advocate for radical equality, not special treatment of anyone, unless they are children, for obvious reasons.  I’m also very suspicious of feminist legal ventures that attempt to excuse murders by women who claim they were suffering from battered woman syndrome and are therefore not responsible for their actions.  If self defense is the defense, so be it.  But there are plenty of women who belong in prison, or deserve to stay there, as much as any other murderer, despite the fact that their victim once battered them.

Having worked with the domestic violence movement, I know enough about the dynamics of the crime to know that men are not infrequently victims too.  That’s actually more reason for us to pursue every domestic violence case objectively and with little consideration for the voluntary relationship involved, except insomuch as the technical elements of that relationship can be considered evidence of a crime.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between the legal reforms of the 1970’s that demanded equal treatment for blacks, or women, or gays, versus the special rights movements that subsumed these earlier efforts.  For a brief window of time, equality was the ambition, and a lot of good came of that.  Those healthy legal efforts led to new sex crime laws, for example, that punished the offender based on his behavior, not on the victim’s identity.  They opened the door for prosecutions of men who raped men and the prosecution of female rapists — virtually all of whom target children.  They enabled battered women to see their violent husbands serve time for beating them, and visa versa.

But then the emphasis shifted to special rights, special protections, affirmative action justice and identity-based law enforcement.  The politicization of crime is spinning wildly out of control these days — illegal immigrants are given special leniency when they can’t produce a driver’s license in Los Angeles, for example; the hate crimes industry is a bottomless pit of prejudicial law enforcement; affirmative action poisons every aspect of employment law and equal rights; federal meddling casually threatens police with career-destroying racial charges for simply trying to do their jobs.   The sheer notion of equality before the law is deemed risible by the “best” legal minds.

Equality isn’t the goal anymore.

We need to get back to that moment when it was the goal.  Because in addition to being the right thing to do, equality worked a hell of a lot better than the alternative.  Inequality of any type, I’ve come to believe, is the handmaiden of leniency.  When any crime is politicized, the courts lose the moral authority they need to maintain every law.

I thought of this when I saw the following headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution today:

Slain woman predicted her own death

Donna Kristofak was terrified and letting the court know it. John S. Kristofak, who was her husband for 19 years, had been arrested six months earlier as he chased her in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In his car were a butcher’s knife and what police called “a suicide note.”

During a court hearing Oct. 12, Mrs. Kristofak begged a Cobb County judge not to release him from jail. “I fear for my life,” she told Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs, telling the judge that a court-issued order of protection would not stop her crazed ex-spouse.

Early Thursday, fugitive squads arrested Kristofak, 58, after a short struggle at a Motel 6 in Union City, ending a publicized five-day manhunt. He was charged with doing exactly what he’d promised earlier this year: murder.

I have a lot of questions about this case.  What the hell was this man doing out of prison for time served, seven months after trying to kidnap and plotting (with evidence) to murder his ex-wife last March?  Why wasn’t he prosecuted for attempted kidnapping and given a real sentence?  Why wasn’t he given a sentence enhancement for repeatedly violating the restraining order in place against him before the March incident?  What happened to the mandatory minimum of 10 years without parole for kidnapping in Georgia?  Was a protective order used in lieu of prosecuting him for kidnapping?

Why does anybody get time served and probation for attempting to kidnap, with the written intent to kill, anyone?  Ex-wife or no ex-wife?

The judge in this case has more explaining to do, as does the prosecutor and the defense attorney and everyone else involved in what may be an illegal plea deal that left an unsurprised woman unsurprisingly dead.  I’m not saying that any of them treated John Kristofak with special leniency because his target was his ex-wife, but why was he released from prison with such a paltry sentence when he had just set out to kill someone, threatened her repeatedly, stalked her, and then tried to kidnap her from a public place?

Kristofak remained in jail until October, when he cut a plea deal with the court that would sentence him to seven months in jail and have him serve the rest of the 5-year term on probation.

According to the transcript of the guilty plea Oct. 12, Donna Kristofak told the judge: “I definitely want a permanent order of no contact. May I also say that a protective order existed the night of the arrest and I do not feel that will necessarily bring safety.”

Judge Grubbs: “I understand that. It’s a little different with a TPO and filing a protective order. … If he violates the order in this case he gets picked up by the probation violation and put in jail immediately.”

Mrs. Kristofak: “Yes, your honor, I respect that and thank you for that. My fear is that I may not survive that …”

“I understand,” the judge said, cutting in.

“… I fear for my life,” Mrs. Kristofak continued.

“I can’t tell you with 100 percent, I’d be lying to you and I am sorry you are in that position,” said the judge, sounding sympathetic. “But whatever I do, you can go out and, you’ve got that risk but you will have that … copy of the protective order so the minute you get nervous about anything you call the police. … It’s as close as we can get to 100 percent.”

“Thank you, your honor,” Mrs. Kristofak said. “May I ask, your honor, that it is on the record that I fear for my life?”

“It is on the record,” said Judge Grubbs . . .

On December 22, John Kristofak killed Donna Kristofak in the garage of her home.

Keeping Kristofak in prison would have been 100%.  Apparently, the restraining order was a giant zero.

If Kristofak was treated with special leniency in the March crime because his victim was his wife, something needs to be done about that.

If Kristofak was treated with run-or-the-mill leniency for no special reason, something needs to be done about that, too.

 read the article here

Domestic Violence And Police Time

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From the always-informative CourtWatchFlorida, a heads-up on the Department of Justice’s new report on domestic violence.

As I was reading through the report, a few facts jumped out:

Domestic violence-related police calls have been found to constitute the single largest category of calls received by police, accounting for 15 to more than 50 percent of all calls.


[W]hether police arrested the suspect or not, their involvement had a strong deterrent effect.

I don’t know where Atlanta falls in the percentage of police calls made due to domestic violence (and that includes calls made by anybody, including third-parties), but it represents a substantial proportion of police resources.

And, even if arrests aren’t made, it is apparently time well-spent, since simply getting the police involved is a deterrent to further violence.  It may not feel that way to the cop who has to come out and deal with a frustrating, unresolved situation, but the research findings are unusually unambiguous on this important point: calling the police is an effective deterrent to escalating violence.

That’s worth considering, too, when you’re trying to decide what to do.

Criminologists Say the Craziest Things, Part 2: Man Bites Dog. Dow Jones Implicated.

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Yesterday, I wrote about some media reactions to the Binghamton mass killer.   Today, I want to take a closer look at the ways expert opinions play out in one article about recent mass killings from The Christian Science Monitor.  

In “Shootings, Murder-Suicide Raise Broader Question: Is Violence Linked to Recession?”, writer Patrik Jonsson posits the theory that the recent economic downturn may be responsible for the following crimes:

Four Oakland, Calif., police officers shot down. An Alabama man strolling a small town with a rifle, looking for victims. Seven elderly people shot dead at a North Carolina nursing home. And on Sunday, six people, including four kids, died in an apparent murder-suicide in an upscale neighborhood in Santa Clara, Calif.

What do these disparate crimes allegedly have in common?  Jonsson suggests the economy, and he quotes Jack Levin, a much-quoted criminologist from Northwestern University, who enthusiastically endorse the association of these crimes with the economic crisis:

“Most of these mass killings are precipitated by some catastrophic loss, and when the economy goes south, there are simply more of these losses,” says Jack Levin, a noted criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. . . 

The recession in the early 1990s “saw a dramatic increase in workplace violence committed by vengeful ex-workers who decided to come back and get even with their boss and their co-workers through the barrel of an AK-47,” . . . 

“Social isolation is a huge factor” in a country as large and transient as America, which places big emphasis on personal results, Levin says. “If you look at where many of these mass killings have occurred lately, they’re in states that have lots of strangers, transients, and drifters, who don’t have support systems to get them through tough times.”

Or maybe none of these things are true.  

The murders in Oakland were precipitated, by all accounts, by felon Lovell Mixon’s desire to avoid returning to jail (the only “loss” Mixon was facing was the loss of his freedom to rape children in his neighborhood with impunity).  The well-off shooter in Santa Clara was reportedly not experiencing financial troubles when he killed his own children and other family members visiting from India.  The gunman in North Carolina was hunting down his estranged wife, who had recently left him and was working in the nursing home where he killed eight people.  The man who killed ten in southern Alabama, Michael McLendon, had spoken to friends about his disappointment at not being able to stay in the Marines or the police academy, but it was personal failings, not economic trends, that caused his dismissals from both, and these events, like Jiverly Wong’s much commented-upon departure from a computer industry job, happened years before the current recession. 

Of all the men mentioned in the article, only Michael McClendon seems to fit the profile of somebody feeling job-related resentments. He kept lists of people whom he felt had wronged him at work.  But when he began killing, he targeted family members, starting with his mother, grandmother and other relatives.  He did not kill former co-workers or employers.     

Nor were any of these men “strangers, transients, [or] drifters” lacking “support systems,” as Levin claims. Precisely the opposite seems true: they all appear to have been deeply entrenched in insular communities and extended families.  Lovelle Mixon was no stranger in a strange land; instead, he was sheltered from authorities by community and family members alike, at great danger to those who helped him.  Even after destroying four innocent lives and being identified as a child-rapist, he retains the unconditional support of his family and some in his community.  The Santa Clara killer opened fire during a housewarming party, surrounded by family members.  The nursing home shooter was trying to kill his wife; the number of “transients” or “drifters” in the small town where he lived is irrelevant.  And Kinson, Alabama, where Michael McLendon lived and killed, can hardly be characterized as a highly mobile environment where people live lives disconnected from each other.

What is the point of saying such things, if they fly in the face of every available fact?  

What is to be gained, or obscured, by claiming that social alienation and the economy drove these men to kill, when the reality appears to have far more to do with the fact that they were entrenched in, not detached from, social and family relationships — and the economy played no role at all?

The main thing being downplayed by blaming the economy is the fact that these men (except Mixon, who was not a spree killer at all, but a common criminal eluding arrest) harbored murderous rage towards their own families.  All of their crimes began as domestic violence.  Pointing to factors beyond “He hated his mother/wife/brother-in-law enough to kill them” is therefore difficult, and blaming the economic downturn is simply propaganda of a sort designed to lift some blame from the murderers’ shoulders and place it on us all.  

By now, it should not surprise that criminologists automatically default to blame-spreading when confronted with any violent (or non-violent) crime.  Seeking the “root causes” of crime anywhere but in the hearts and minds of criminals has been the common currency of criminology for fifty years now.  

So is it even really true, as Jack Levin puts it (in oddly emotional language), that there was “a dramatic increase in workplace violence committed by vengeful ex-workers who decided to come back and get even with their boss and their co-workers through the barrel of an AK-47” during the 1990-1991 recession?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the percentage of murders involving multiple victims remained steady from the late 1980’s to well beyond the time of economic recovery around 1993.  

In sharp contrast, the percentage of murders involving multiple offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 shot up dramatically during the same time.      

Did these 14 to 17 year old gang members possess special insight into the market conditions of 1991?  Of course not.  14 to 17-year old gang members were killing each other, and others, in record numbers through the early 1990’s, but they weren’t walking into former workplaces and blowing their former co-workers away because they got laid off and couldn’t pay the mortgage.  They kept killing each other so long as we let them keep killing each other, through lenient sentencing, and when we finally got around to imposing mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes, many fewer young people died from the consequences of living at one of the two wrong ends of a gun.  The problem was the illegal drug trade, and the solution was minimum mandatory sentencing.  But you won’t hear criminologist saying that, especially as they collude with the current administration to decriminalize the actions of younger offenders and overturn minimum sentences for recidivists. 

All crimes peaked in the early 1990’s.  But it was urban gang activity that accounted for the vast majority of the carnage that coincided with the last recession. The vengeful loner, armed with a pink slip and an AK-47, is merely a type cherished by criminologists and journalists.  

Such men do exist, as do “alienated school shooters,” but with the exception of crimes which are more accurately defined as pure cases of domestic violence (Patrik Jonsson does address domestic violence at length in his article), they are so rare that we can remember the incidents by name and place — perhaps fewer than one hundred spree killers in the past quarter-century, among nearly 500,000 murders and millions of violent gun crimes.  Spree killings are exceedingly rare: they tell us nothing about the economy, and they tell us nothing about American society, save that we need to stop denying the fact that some mentally ill people do turn violent because they are mentally ill, and we must never be less than vigilant in cases of domestic violence.

Yet criminologists are far more likely to appeal to overseas audiences by depicting American society as some explosive inbred offspring of the Wild West, where “going postal” is an everyday occurrence.  They cherry-pick rare cases of mass murder and find in them a convenient narrative for blaming “us all” and a subtle shorthand to impugn things they find suspect — rural men, gun-owners, blue-collar laborers.  Blood lust, they claim, lies at the heart of every American.  

Such generalized (yet selective) contempt is barely concealed — “vengeful ex-workers who decided to come back and get even with their boss . . . through the barrel of an AK-47” is hardly academic argot.  But the deeper you look into academia, the less surprising this type of language seems.