October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, the month-long commemoration evolved from a Day of Unity, which was conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October 1981. The intent of the day was to connect advocates across the nation who work to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity eventually became an entire week devoted to a range of activities conducted at the local, state and national levels. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. In 1989, Congress passed Public Law 101-112 designating October of that year as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Since then, each October we are inundated with activities and media coverage that reminds us of the need to eradicate domestic violence in our communities. Throughout the month, groups and individuals hold candlelight vigils, special church services and specialized training on college campuses and in hospitals. One would think with so much exposure and awareness about the issue, that it might prompt people to be more aware of their behavior and to treat domestic violence as the serious crime that it is. Instead, there is a "disconnect" at best and conflicting messages that the public receives at worst.
We hear that domestic violence is horrible, victims should be protected, and when victims are harmed or killed, justice should be swift and reflective of the seriousness of the crime. Often what we see is the opposite. Such is the case with the recent verdict in the Nikki McPhatter case.
Nikki McPhatter was a young woman who met Theodore Manning IV online. They began a romance, but when she tried to end the relationship, he ended her life. Manning put a bullet in the back of her head, "execution style," according to prosecutors. He was so broken up over the murder that he looted her ATM cards, dumped her body in her car, and set the car on fire to hide the evidence. Manning enlisted the help of another girlfriend, Kendra Goodman, to help him dispose of the remains. After killing, looting, burning and disposing, Manning had sex with Goodman. For all of this, Manning was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years, which was the maximum. Did I mention the charge only carried two to 30 years? Another judge with a greater threshold for violence could have given him even less time. Apparently putting a gun to the back of someone's head and pulling the trigger is a spontaneous action.
A murder conviction would have resulted in life in prison with no parole. As it stands, Manning could be back in society and online within our lifetime. This type of conviction and sentence came down during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Manning, who lied to police continuously, maintains that they had an argument and struggled over the gun, but he never meant to kill her; you might struggle with someone who is trying to kill you. The jury bought Manning's tired story. What kind of message does that send to victims of domestic violence? Did he have to shoot her in the face for jurors to believe that Manning intended to murder her?
Speaking of which, this past weekend, Billy Kirk was arrested for shooting his girlfriend in the face during a domestic dispute in Concord. Police arrested Kirk and charged him with assault with a deadly weapon causing serious injury and possession of a firearm by a felon. As of print time, the condition of the girlfriend is unknown. I suspect that shooting someone in the face during a domestic violence dispute would yield an attempted murder charge. Why is Kirk being charged with assault with a deadly weapon and not murder? I'm thinking that if you shoot someone in the face, or in the back of the head, then there can be no intent but to kill her.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month needs to be more than just words, themes and activities. The seriousness of the crimes needs to be reflected in the charges and sentences given to offenders. Prevention should include harsher charges and sentencing as a deterrent. Words without appropriate action doesn't mean very much. Just ask Nikki McPhatter's friends and family.