Domestic Violence Homicide
Guide for Investigating the Path Leading Up to Domestic
for Friends, Activists, Journalists, and All
I die, I don't want other women to suffer what I have suffered.
I want them to be listened to!
Maria Teresa Macias,
just weeks before being murdered by her husband
If you want to
do something to stop the domestic violence homicides of
women in your community, here's a powerful project you can
carry out by yourself or with a couple of friends. No matter
who you are or where in the world you live, you can and
you should investigate the path leading up to domestic violence
homicides of women in your area, for two very important
First, the story
of these women's lives and deaths cannot be allowed to be
summarily swept off the stage of human existence. After
first being isolated, minimized, and eliminated by the abuser,
the woman is then generally written off again in press stories
about the murder in which she is portrayed as little more
than a faceless victim interchangeable with any other. Reviving
and telling her story is a matter of justice and of getting
the community to face the significance of the loss.
The second compelling
need for your investigation is that the woman's murder,
like the murder of most domestic violence homicide victims,
was probably completely preventible, if only officials had
done their jobs. Too many women are murdered only because
the police, prosecutors, and courts to whom she had earlier
gone for help failed to respond properly or failed to respond
homicide after homicide in our own and neighboring communities
we have found that the women's murders were preceded by
gross failures of criminal justice officials to deal properly
with the women's earlier calls for help. Despite constant
law enforcement rhetoric about how seriously they treat
domestic violence, the realities were quite the opposite.
The women had been treated with contempt, crucial evidence
wasn't collected, men weren't arrested, reports weren't
written, viable cases weren't prosecuted, victim's rights
were violated, and agency policies and state laws were ignored.
Investigating and exposing these official failures leading
up to domestic violence homicides is one of the most powerful
ways you can rally and mobilize your community to pressure
for the changes necessary to save other women's lives and
to stop these senseless killings.
Even if you've
never done an investigation like this before, there's no
reason you can't do a good job the first time around. Investigation
is mostly common sense. We've seen a number of untrained
family members and friends who have put together very good
investigations on their own with virtually no help at all.
Whether you're an advocate, a community activist, a friend
of the victim, a journalist, or just someone who is determined
that this violence against women must stop, consider the
immense impact you can have with a project that requires
no formal organizations, no budgets, and no rigid time line.
guide doesn't cover every situation you'll encounter in
carrying out such an investigation, but it should give you
some basic stepping stones. Don't be intimidated by the
guide itself either. To do a good investigation you don't
necessarily have to carry out every point covered here.
Your own purposes and the circumstances will best shape
the scope of what you need to do.
can also use this same guide to investigate the background
of any violence against women case, whether or not the woman
has been murdered, and with the obvious added benefit that
the victim herself can fill in huge parts of the story.
We focus here on domestic violence homicide in part because
the woman can never again speak for herself. And also because
murder is compelling enough to hold the public's attention.
has evolved. Though many people still don't pay much attention
to the daily domestic violence around them, the needless
murder of women is increasingly seen as unacceptable. Your
investigation can galvanize the public's outrage and give
them the facts they need to formulate effective demands
There's one other
thing we hope you'll do with this guide. Whether or not
you plan to carry out your own investigation, please download
this guide and give it to women's groups, students, and
journalists in your area.
Violence Homicides are Preventible
This isn't a
pipe dream, nor our dream, nor any dream at all. It's proven
fact. Domestic violence homicide is preventible! There are
a half dozen cities around the country, cities as diverse
as San Diego, Nashville, TN, and Quincy, MA, that have been
able to reduce their domestic violence homicide rates by
more than 60% in just a matter of years.
The key to these
dramatic reductions is the same in each local. Aggressive
and thorough law enforcement response to domestic violence
at the misdemeanor level is what saves women's lives.
And it stands
to reason. Domestic violence homicide doesn't occur out
of the blue like a robbery suddenly gone bad. Domestic violence
is a violent regime that generally develops and escalates
slowly over time. If law enforcement and other officials
intervene adequately in the flare-ups that occur along the
way, the violence is stopped. If on the other hand, officials
fail to respond adequately, the victim is left in greater
danger than before she made the call. The perpetrator is
emboldened, the victim is exposed and weakened, and the
To be sure, all
segments of society have a role in stopping violence against
women- families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, businesses
- everyone. But once there is violence or threat of violence,
only law enforcement has the power, the authority, and the
official responsibility to put the perpetrator under control.
If law enforcement doesn't respond properly by protecting
the victim and controlling the perpetrator, the help coming
from others will only be undone by the perpetrator's continuing
the same time that the criminal justice system holds the
key to saving women's lives, it's a system that remains
more stubbornly resistant to change than other segments
of society. Though there are progressive individuals and
units here and there, like those in the cities we've named
above, the core culture of law enforcement remains rife
with old and dangerous sexist attitudes, practices, and
biases against women. It's going to take immense public
pressure to bring about the deep seated changes needed to
make the criminal justice system provide truly equal protection
of the laws. And that's where you, your friends, and your
investigation come in.
In rare cases,
you may find that the victim never did contact authorities
for help, in which case you'll want to know why so that
issue can be addressed. Or you may find that officials did
everything they could, and then your question becomes what
else could have been done. But in most domestic violence
homicides you'll find that the path leading up to her death
was paved with repeated and gross failures of law enforcement
officials to do their jobs.
of Domestic Violence Homicide Investigations
One of the best
ways to get a better idea of the range of ways these investigations
can be carried out and written up is to take look at some
On the Women's
Justice Center web site at www.justicewomen.com see the
case of Maria Teresa Macias
and the write up on the Jackie Anderson case in the criminal
justice section under the title, "Jackie's
Life, A Courtroom Joke".
On the Purple
Beret's web site at www.purpleberets.org
see the cases of Mina Arevalo, Claire Joyce Tempongko ,
the Pelfini case, and the case of Debbie Zuver.
both these web sites have much additional information that
should be of help to you on general issues related to violence
against women and on specific criminal justice aspects of
to Your Investigation
you certainly can do this kind of an investigation on your
own, most people prefer to work with others. Two or three
people working together is ideal. With two or three people
you can divide the work and at the same time keep the task
of sharing information from becoming overwhelming.
of Your Investigation
order in which you carry out the tasks of your investigation,
is sometimes very strategic and at other times can be left
to your convenience. Clearly, the best order of doing things
will be different in every investigation. The important
thing to remember is to always stop and give some thought
and planning to your next move before making it. Timing
can be key to the amount of information you obtain.
Here are a couple
of examples of the kind of the questions you'll want to
consider in deciding the order in which you do things: Are
there certain things you want to accomplish before tipping
police and prosecutors that you're digging into their handling
of the case? Do you want the family's prior approval or
do you want to carry out the investigation whether or not
the victim's family is involved? Are there certain documents
you feel you should see before interviewing given individuals?
Etc. Stop, think, and strategize before you act.
of Your Investigation
one sense, there is no urgency to your investigation. The
victim's life has already been lost. So you can be completely
flexible about fitting this work into your life. On the
other hand, the potential impact of your findings will decrease
the longer you wait to present them. In the end, the speed
of your investigation may also be dependant on a number
of factors out of your control, not the least of which is
the next question, the suicide/homicide question.
a third of all domestic violence homicides are followed
quickly by the perpetrator committing suicide. When the
perpetrator commits suicide, the police investigation into
the deaths will generally be wrapped up in a matter of days
or at most a week or two. At that point, the homicide investigation
is said to be "closed", and most of the documents associated
with the death, such as the coroner's report, the homicide
investigation itself, and records associated with the case,
generally become quickly available to you on the public
On the other
hand, when the perpetrator does not commit suicide, the
police homicide investigation is likely to remain "open"
and many related documents will be unavailable to the public
for a much longer period of time. Generally, these documents
won't become available until they are presented to the court
or until after sentencing of the perpetrator. This doesn't
mean that you can't go forward with your own investigation
during this time. But it does mean that it will be more
difficult to get hold of certain documents and reports.
Often, however, there are alternative means to obtain many
of these documents or alternative means to obtain the information
they contain. In addition, the court process itself, though
it takes time to unfold, frequently produces a great deal
of information you wouldn't have been able to obtain otherwise.
and Goals of Your Investigation
domestic violence victims seek help from many sources in
addition to the help they seek from law enforcement. They
may go to victim advocates, health workers, clergy, neighbors,
counselors, para-legals, and a host of others. As you begin
looking into the history, you'll likely see scores of missed
opportunities where others could have or should have stepped
in to save the woman's life. You'll need to decide how broadly
or narrowly you want to frame your investigation. The answer
to this question will generally depend on how much time
you have. But do keep in mind that it is the police, prosecutors,
and courts that have the primary and the sole official responsibility
for providing protection from violence, for providing access
to justice, and for putting the perpetrators under control.
in the habit early of keeping accurate dates, times, names,
addresses, and contact information on everything you do.
Make copies of everything and share all information with
You may or may
not want to use a tape recorder at interviews. The great
advantage of taping interviews is that you can fully focus
on the interview, and you can be assured of total accuracy.
The disadvantage of tape recording is that people may be
much more guarded in what they say, even if they've given
you permission to record. However, most people quickly forget
about a recorder and talk on with ease. Another disadvantage
of tape recording is that the recording, if its existence
becomes known, can potentially be pulled into any legal
action stemming from the homicide.
or not it's your first time doing this kind of investigation
, you're going to have questions arising all along the way
on everything from rules of evidence to your local law enforcement
policies and procedures. Being able to quickly get accurate
answers to these questions is crucial.
the answers are just a phone call away. All you have to
do is give a few moment's thought as to who would be best
to call. Here's a few people to keep in mind for those occasions;
the crime reporter on your local paper, your county law
librarian, criminal defense attorneys, law enforcement officials
not connected with the case, court clerks, victim advocates,
your city attorney, the researchers at your local legislator's
office, and many more. Don't forget that your taxes pay
the salaries for most of these people. So don't be shy about
picking up the phone or knocking on their doors.
Death Review Teams:
counties in the United States now have formal domestic violence
death review teams. These teams are generally made up of
law enforcement and other public officials. The stated purpose
of these death review teams is to look into and report on
the factors leading up to the victim's death. If your county
has a public team like this, you probably wonder why you
should bother to duplicate the effort, especially when the
people on the death review team are professionals and you're
not. The answer to this question is that these public teams
which are supposed to uncover the truth are too often dedicated
to just the opposite.
Too often, these
teams actively work to hide the truth. If you think about
it for a minute, the reasons should be obvious. The public
officials on death review teams don't want to expose the
failures of their own agencies, especially failures that
can implicate them in a homicide. So, not surprisingly,
these officials are highly invested in making sure those
failures stay buried.
too many of these domestic violence death review teams are
worse than useless because they lull the public into believing
that these teams are watching out for women's safety, when
in fact they are often covering up the very information
the public most needs to know in order to stop future homicides.
Don't Be Intimidated:
officials can be very intimidating or downright bullying
when they want to discourage you from obtaining information.
They often lie, misinform you about your rights to records,
mislead, threaten, accuse, hide, withhold, deny, dodge,
and in general do whatever they feel they need to do to
keep you from uncovering their mistakes . And no officials
do this with more finesse and skill than officials in the
criminal justice system.
Don't be intimidated.
It's crucial to remember that these officials are paid by
you to serve the public. Most of the time you don't need
to confront their tactics head on. Just be aware, be smart,
and find a way around them.
the Family and Friends of the Victim
The family, friends,
neighbors, co-workers, and associates of domestic violence
homicide victims have an immense amount to tell you about
the victim's story. Because domestic violence develops into
homicide over such a long period of time, the victim has
usually spoken numerous times to people close to her. In
fact, it's likely that a number of people close to the victim
have been present at the times the victim has sought help.
They also likely have possession of key writings and documents
in the case.
If you haven't
done this before, you may very well feel hesitant about
approaching the victim's family and friends because of the
intensity of their grief. This hesitation is natural. But
don't let it stop you.
In our experience
the family and friends of domestic violence homicide victims
usually want very much to talk. Remember that they've likely
seen the victim struggle over months or even years. They're
often deeply disturbed that more wasn't done to help her.
Most of the victim's family and friends not only welcome
the opportunity to talk, they also desperately want to see
that the failures and mishandling of the case be exposed.
Most are profoundly grateful for what you're doing, and
many want to get actively involved in trying to help you
any way they can.
Of course, if
there's someone who doesn't want to talk, you need to respect
their wishes. Always try to leave the door open for their
reconsidering at a later date.
Here are a
few things to help you get started on interviewing family
yourself and your purpose honestly and directly. You may
say something like this: "Hello, we're women's rights
advocates. We'd like to talk with you about your daughter's
death because we want to help prevent the deaths of other
- Begin slowly.
Be kind. Always ask people if they have any questions.
Answer their questions honestly. If people want to put
conditions or restrictions on the interview, discuss the
issues honestly and always abide by any agreement you
- Don't let
yourself get pulled too far into people's grief or into
solving their problems. It doesn't help them or you if
you become overwhelmed. Be compassionate and gentle, but
clarify and stick to the boundaries of your work. In regard
to the many problems people face at a time like this,
you may or may not want to take the time to search out
and connect people to the services that can help.
- Once you begin
asking your questions, don't be afraid to keep the person
on track. In the moments when people become overwhelmed
with emotion, take a minute or two to relax. Then ask
if they'd like to continue, or to continue at another
- Whenever possible,
ask your questions in a logical order and introduce your
line of questioning with a clear statement of what you
want to know. For example, you can set the course by saying
something like, "I'd like to start by having you tell
me about how you know the woman and what you can tell
me about her as a person." Then move to your next line
of questioning by saying, "Now I'd like to focus on what
you can tell me about the victim's contacts with law enforcement,
starting from the first time you can remember working
up to the present." If the person has a tendency to go
off on tangents, the logical order you establish makes
it easier to coax the person back on track. It also helps
assure that you don't miss key events. A time line from
beginning to end is always one of the best coordinates
to follow. Sticking to given subject area also helps you
order your own thoughts.
At the same time, you don't want to make your line of
questioning so rigid that you suppress information that
doesn't fit into the box you've established. Striking
just the right balance, like all other aspects of interviewing,
is an art you develop along the way.
- Don't tire
people out. People who are traumatized tire very, very
quickly. If the person you're interviewing has a lot of
information, it's probably best to cover it in a series
of contacts rather than trying to cover it all at once.
Get in the habit of asking people from time to time throughout
the interview if they're getting tired, and if they'd
like to take a break or continue at another time.
- The victim's
family often has copies of key documents in the case.
Don't ever take the only copy of a document from family
and friends. Always get copies made and leave the original
or parent copy with the person who had possession.
- Try to obtain
photographs of the victim. Again, get a copy, not an original.
- Engage the
person in helping you brainstorm other people you should
talk to and other leads you should follow. Encourage those
who want to get involved. Many delve into the project
with passion. But don't be upset if someone can't follow
through. The grieving process sets its own course, and
people going through it are buffeted in ways they can't
Working with and establishing a relationship with the
victim's family is also very beneficial in helping you
get documents and in later dealing with the press. In
forming this relationship, take exquisite care that each
step is according to their wishes.
- Don't forget
to consider others in the victim's life such as co-workers,
classmates, neighbors, clergy, teachers. Sometimes domestic
violence victims try to protect those most close to them
and choose to confide more in a co-worker or other acquaintance.
- Always leave
the door open to follow up with more talks.
the Perptrator's Family and Friends
for interviewing family and friends of the perpetrator aren't
all that different from interviewing the victim's family
and friends. Family and friends of the perpetrator are generally
going to be traumatized by the events too. Even if they
blamed the woman for the couple's problems, or were in fact
part of the problem, they likely also felt helpless and
desperate as they watched events escalate way beyond what
they anticipated. They too are often agonized that authorities
maybe didn't intervene sufficiently when things could have
The one main
difference, of course, is that the perpetrator's family
and friends may be very reluctant to talk to you. The best
way to overcome this reluctance is to communicate very clearly
that your purpose is not to investigate or pass judgement
on the perpetrator nor on them. Take some extra time to
clearly explain that what you want to do is find out how
officials and community services can better prevent this
kind of tragedy in the future. Where appropriate, explain
that as family or friends of the perpetrator, they are victims
of this tragedy too.
Some of the perpetrator's
family and friends may still refuse to talk with you. But
if you've treated them carefully, you can usually get an
answer to a pressing question or two. Say something like
this: "I understand that you don't want to have a conversation,
but can you just help me with one thing before I go?"
Law Enforcement and Others Authorities
law enforcement officials is a different ball game altogether.
These officials are usually very cagey about answering any
line of questioning even under the best of circumstances.
So if and when it becomes obvious that you're digging into
something that might reflect badly on them, the response
of law enforcement can be downright obstructive and purposely
So why even bother
talking to law enforcement at all? The answer is that law
enforcement officers, more than anyone else, usually have
the big answers to your most burning questions, if only
you can get them to speak. So it's definitely worth your
time to figure out how you're going to get them to talk
or help. The strategies available to you are as wide ranging
as your own abilities with people.
Here are a
- There are
some officials who may be motived to want to give you
information by a genuine moral outrage at misconduct.
Some may be motivated by gripes against their agency or
against individuals in it. Some may be motivated by wanting
to shift blame off themselves. Some may be motivated by
wanting to shift blame off their own agency onto another
agency. (Police love to blame DA's, for example, and DA's
love to blame police.) People low in rank, like clerks
and receptionists, often know a tremendous amount and
they may be motivated by resentment for the way they themselves
are treated or by genuine outrage at the injustices they
But the main thing you have to keep in mind is that no
matter how motivated an official may be to give you information,
they are also intensely motivated not to break the extremely
strict codes of loyalty and silence that pervade the criminal
justice system. If an official is ever going to violate
these codes and risk the severe consequences, they need
a way to do it as anonymously and untraceably as possible.
- Keep talking
with officials even if you know they're misleading you.
You may not be getting the truth, but you are getting
an elaborate dance around the truth. The more steps you
see in the dance, the more clues you'll be getting as
to where the truth lies.
- A very good
place to start talking with officials is by talking to,
or preferably meeting with, the homicide investigator.
The best way to make this happen is by going in with the
The homicide investigator is more likely than anyone to
be on top of the big picture. In the course of investigating
the homicide, the homicide investigator, in a very short
period of time, has pulled together the pertinent criminal
justice records and has talked with many of the key people
in the case. As such, the homicide detective has a big
picture view of the case at a very critical time.
In addition, the homicide detective is the official most
likely to be sympathetic to the victim. The homicide detective
has likely had to deal with children who have just lost
their mother, and has heard people's spontaneous first
reactions to the women's death. And way too often what
the homicide investigator hears is comments of outrage
like, "How come you guys are the only ones that didn't
know he was going to kill her? He said he was going to
kill her 50 times? Why didn't you do anything about it
then?" The homicide investigators are human, too, and
they too can be offended by the senselessness of the women's
- Plan your
approach to officials before hand. And then be prepared
to adapt and change quickly if things don't go as you
expected. It's usually best to start by assuming the basic
goodness of the person. But when you become aware that
someone's misleading you, you'll need to bring on a whole
other set of interviewing skills. Don't be afraid to try
some of the following tricks. You might be amazed at the
hidden natural talents you've had laying dormant all these
years. By the way, the most important interviewing skill
of all is to know which trick to use when and with whom.
Along: One of the easiest things to do when someone's
misleading you is to just play along with it and pay
attention. See how far they'll take it. And as we
mentioned above, the longer they lie, the more likely
you'll find out what you want to know, whether through
contradictions, mistakes, carelessness, or any number
of sideways communications. The key is to keep talking
and pay attention.
This is similar to the above except that it involves
getting into long, sing-song, rambling conversations.
Some people just plain enjoy chewing the fat. And
if you can keep the sing-song going for long enough,
rambling in and around the subject, sooner or later
you end up getting told things the person never would
have told you if you straight out asked the questions.
and Conquer: Police want to blame prosecutors,
and prosecutors want to blame police. That's just
one of many splits you can play on to get a few bits
of information from one side and then a few bits from
the other. Pretty soon you can start piecing the bits
together into a picture.
Confrontation: Unexpectedly and sharply putting
evidence of wrongdoing in front of people doesn't
usually provoke the truth. But it usually does provoke
a poorly thought out spontaneous response. And in
that blurted out response there's often clues to what's
really going on. Use this sparingly, because it tends
to make it difficult to get your next phone call returned.
Lullaby: Questioning someone intently on a neutral
but related subject puts the person off guard. They
get lulled into an unguarded mode of explaining things
to you. Then camouflage your real questions carefully,
slip them into the conversation and people often give
you the information you want without even being aware
they did so.
the Table: Some officials really want to give
you information or documents but for obvious reasons
they don't want to do so openly. If you suspect that's
the case, you have to convey very subtly, yet very
clearly, that you know how to handle dynamite without
having it blow up at the wrong time and place. It
doesn't happen too often that officials will purposely
slip you sensitive information and documents, but
when they do it's going to be exactly what you need.
Documents and Records
Obtain as many
relevant court files, police records, warrants, and other
official records as possible. Read them carefully, and read
them more than once. If you've never read legal documents
before there are going to be certain notations that are
confusing at first. But stick with it, and you'll quickly
see that there's usually a central text in each document
that tells a story in plain English. From there, you'll
be able to deduce the meaning of much of the notation, and
be able to ask good questions about the rest.
Key Records and
where you can find them: If you don't have experience obtaining
these kinds of documents, just go to the clerks who work
in the record's departments of courts, police, and district
attorneys. Some of these clerks are very helpful. They'll
answer your questions at length and provide you with copies
of what you need. As in any navigation through a bureaucracy,
if one clerk doesn't help you, move on to the next.
If you are roundly
refused a set of documents that you believe should be on
the public record and hence be made available to you, one
of the best sources of verifying this is with a phone call
to the crime reporter on your local or regional newspaper.
Crime reporters are pulling criminal justice system records
as a routine part of their daily work. They're more familiar
than anyone with what's on the public record, what's off
the public record, and when, and why. These reporters are
usually very willing to answer a question or two. If, indeed,
you've been wrongly denied a document, ask the reporter
what he or she suggests you do in order to obtain the document.
If you still
aren't able to obtain the document or report, you may have
to write a formal public records act request. Don't worry,
it's very simple to do. (See How
to Write a Public Records Act Request)
It's worth repeating
that you should get as many of the relevant documents as
you can. A document that may not seem particularly relevant
to your needs may have other critical documents attached
or summarized. For example, arrest warrants frequently have
part or all of police reports attached. If the victim has
minor children, the Child Protective Service reports about
what to do with the children will usually have the homicide
and other police reports attached.
following is an abbreviated list of key places to get records
and the kinds of records you can obtain:
At your County
Courthouse you can obtain:
the perpetrator's criminal records for that county, court
files, divorce records, restraining orders, warrants, and
At your Police
and Sheriff's Department Records Office you can obtain:
crime reports, including the homicide crime report, 911
tapes, CAD (Computer Assisted Dispatch) printouts, incident
reports, department general orders and policies, crime statistics,
department statistics, and more,
At the Coroner's
Office you can obtain the Autopsy Reports:
You may wonder why you would want to look at the autopsy
report thinking that it's just a clinical description of
the victim's injury and death. But the medical examiner
usually includes a summary of what he or she was told by
other officials investigating the case.
At the City
and County Clerk's Office you can obtain:
Sex and race discrimination lawsuits against a public agency
or public official. These lawsuits can give you a general
idea of the atmosphere in a particular agency. They can
also give you important background on particular officers.
In fact, if you're finding that there is a particular officer
or two who badly mishandled the victim's case, be sure and
look up divorce records and restraining orders pertaining
to that officer.
Friends of the Victim:
Don't forget that family and friends of the victim are very
likely to have copies of important documents such as police
reports, restraining orders, and child protective service
records. Remember never to take a person's only copy of
a document. Get a new copy made for yourself.
There is one
document in particular the family may have that's worth
special attention. Child Protective Service (CPS) records
dealing with the placement of the victim's children following
the homicide are extremely valuable to your investigation.
They are also virtually impossible to obtain officially.
Child Protective Services (sometimes called the Child Welfare
Agency or other similar name) maintain their records under
the strictest confidentiality. However, you can often obtain
these crucial records for the simple reason that the homicide
victim's mother, or other close relative, usually gets a
copy of these records soon after the homicide since they
are the one's most likely to be seeking custody of the children.
The reason CPS
records are so valuable to you is that in making the determination
of where the children should go, CPS gets early copies of
all relevant law enforcement reports, including an early
copy of the homicide report and other reports even if the
police haven't yet finished their investigation. The CPS
file is usually chock full of invaluable documents, crime
reports, summaries, and histories. Keep looking for it until
you find it. In one homicide investigation we did, the CPS
file contained virtually every documented we needed. Not
only that, but we would have had immense difficulty obtaining
these documents any other way since the court case against
the perpetrator hadn't even begun.
the Homicide Case in Court
If a suspect
has been arrested for the murder, a schedule of court proceedings
will generally begin in a matter of days. It's very worthwhile
to attend these hearings as the information begins to spill
out. You may think, for example, that a bail reduction hearing
doesn't have much to do with what you're interested in,
but in the arguments back and forth between the attorneys,
there's often a lot of information that begins to spill
on when and where these proceedings will occur is readily
available to the public. As long as you have the defendant's
full name, and best if you have his date of birth, you can
simply call the district attorney's office or the county
jail. You generally don't have to go any further than to
ask the receptionist who answers the phone. She or he will
have a computer in front of them and be able to give you
the dates, times, courtrooms of the upcoming court appearance.
In addition, these receptionists can generally give you
the charges that have been filed, the bail, court orders
that have been issued in the case, the names of the prosecutor,
defense attorney, and judge, and the purpose of the next
hearing. All you have to do is ask.
in the District Attorney's office, though they are usually
heavily overworked, often can also quite accurately answer
many of your questions on the nature of these proceedings.
to Write Up Your
Look again at
the examples of write-ups on our website at www.justicewomen.com
and on the Purple Berets web site at www.purpleberets.org.
- Keep it simple!
So people can't miss your major points.
- Organize it
logically! So people aren't confused.
- Keep it short!
So people will read it. Keep your report to two or three
pages. If you absolutely have to include more details
or documents, include them as attachments.
- Keep it to
the point! State your main point right away, stick to
it, and keep tangential points to a minimum.
- Include a
Photograph of the Victim!
- Give One or
Two Simple, Concrete Examples of What People Can Do to
to do With Your Investigation Findings
violence requires that everyone be involved. This means
you need to get the attention of as many people as possible.
And that means making good use of the media: radio, print,
internet, TV, leaflets, letters to the editor, and more.
As daunting as it sounds, it shouldn't be all that difficult.
Murder is always of interest to the media. In addition,
people's consciousness has at least evolved to the point
of understanding that women don't deserve to die. In fact,
a large enough percentage of the public is sufficiently
incensed by domestic violence homicide, they want to know
why. And you have an answer.
advantage you have with the media is that you've done their
work for them. You have a well worked story; researched,
documented, written, and ready to go. This makes media people,
just like anyone else, very happy. So don't hesitate to
pick up the phone and talk to the news directors, feature
editors, and talk show hosts of your local and regional
Here's a couple
more media tips:
- Before going
to the media, be sure you have talked thoroughly with
the people you interviewed. Are they willing to talk to
the press? Under what conditions? And on which subjects?
Media interviews are always negotiable and you and anyone
you connect to the media should be clear ahead of time
on the limits you want to set with the media.
- Don't ever
give the media your only copy of anything no matter how
much they promise to give it back. If you do, you'll probably
never see it again. Get copies made ahead of time of everything.
- Don't go into
an interview passively allowing the media to direct the
interview or show. This is one of the biggest mistakes
people make with the media. You decide what you want to
talk about and say. Know exactly the one or two points
you want to make ahead of time and no matter what questions
are asked slide your answers back to your one or two main
points. This way you control the interview.
If you allow the interviewer to take you off on tangents,
you're likely to be devastated to see that the only statement
of yours that got aired was the tangent and your main
point was completely left out. There's only one way you
can prevent this. Stick to your main point, and don't
allow the media person to lead you astray. Media is sound
bites. So keep it simple and tight.
- Be conscious
of the power you have in your hands. Media works very
fast, so fast and shark-like in it's grab, that you might
feel it's not worth the trouble. But even 30 seconds or
5 paragraphs of media is an immense power to educate a
huge number of people. Just think how much advertisers
are willing to pay for the same time or space. So it's
definitely worth all the time and energy you've put into
it even if 30 seconds is all you get.
- No matter
how prepared you were for the media event, expect to be
misquoted, to have the story slanted, and to have opposing
views be given more space than your views, especially
if those opposing views come from law enforcement or other
authorities. In fact, if you are presenting evidence of
law enforcement failures, expect that law enforcement
will lie outrageously about the facts and probably lie
about you too. As enraging as all this is, it's pretty
standard fare. You can't control it, you can only try
to minimize it with solid evidence and good anticipation
of what the opposition will say.
So get ready with your thickest skin. Don't waste your
breath griping back at the media even when you're misquoted,
because their skin is thicker than yours. Just keep reminding
yourself that the fact that you got the issues raised
on the big stage of media is a dynamite accomplishment
and a powerful step forward in awakening your community.
Remember too, that many people can read between the lines.
- Keep the story
alive. Be creative. Go to other media with another angle;
with material that was left out, another person to interview,
building off an aspect of the opposition, or community
- Don't miss
the opportunity to present solutions. Pick one or two
critical changes you think need to be made to save other
women's lives. Give people a concrete and simple that
people can call for these changes to be made