To follow up on our earlier article (Domestic Violence Protective Orders and DV Warning Signs), more information and helpful advice from law enforcement authorities has surfaced regarding the murder-suicide committed by Austen Minter in Dallas, North Carolina last week.
Police, prosecutors, and judges involved in the prior domestic violence incidents between Minter and his girlfriend, Tracy Hedgepath, say that they could not stop the violence because Hedgepath would not help to prosecute her abuser nor provide the police with enough evidence of the abuse. Domestic violence experts report that it is common for victims of domestic violence to back off from pursuing punishment out of fear. Alternatively, victims may hope that their relationship will improve or that they should keep a husband or a father for their children.
Experts say, police, prosecutors, and judges should aggressively pursue domestic violence cases in order to ensure a conviction without the aid of testimony from the victim. Police should take photographs of bruises and injuries, as well as detailed statements from victims and witnesses. Prosecutors can use 911 call tapes to prove violent incidents, medical records to prove injuries, and call expert witnesses to explain why victims are afraid to testify. Judges should also examine entire criminal records in order to look for patterns that justify tougher punishments, such as jail time, supervised probation, or therapy.
Prosecutors in Mecklenburg County face similar obstacles when victims refuse to testify against abusers, but report that they strive to prosecute domestic abuse cases, even without victim testimony. However, firsthand testimony is still key. Independent witnesses who are not family and who will not be persuaded out of testifying can also be very helpful to the prosecution.