31 October 2013 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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I have been accused of blaming a murder victim for her own murder!!!
While various ghouls and goblins make their rounds tonight seeking to fright there will be those who cower within their own homes for fear of the specter of Domestic Violence. On this day, the last in Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I present a proposal that I have sent to members of the Indiana General Assembly recently for consideration in the 2014 legislative session.
In 2012 I was contacted by Joseph Warnock, a prisoner at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility serving a term for murder. The murder was that of his estranged wife, Angie, on 22 June 2009. This came after a period of time in which Mr Warnock felt like the “whole world was coming crashing down around me.” The trigger was the 18 June 2009 DVPO which forbade him from having contact with his children although nowhere in the DVPO petition that Angie filed did she allege that he had committed or threatened to commit any act of DV.
For Joseph the murder was the result of culminating feelings of frustration and helplessness. Likely, each of us has faced a moment of frustration where we say something hurtful to someone or destroy the object of our frustration. Be it an automobile, electronic gadget or some other manifestation of our technologically advanced society it seems that even when we are doing exactly as supposed to, and more often when we are rushed, these devices fail to perform in some way. We know that smashing them to bits would be therapeutic but would align us no better to our end goal than walking away. Even the most ardent won't-stop-and-ask-for-directions souls will break down at some point and place a call halfway around the world for tech support or just drop off the instigator of their frustration to a repair shop.
Imagine now that your estranged spouse is surreptitiously planning to relocate your children to Hawaii. You discover this through freight charges applied to your credit card. That on the Thursday preceding Mother's Day or Father's Day a judge orders that you are barred from contact with your children through a Domestic Violence Protection Order [DVPO]. To exacerbate your frustration and feeling of hopelessness you receive a text message that reads, “Face the music, you're not going to see the kids.”
In our criminal code we do acknowledge that while we are responsible for our actions and are to be held accountable there can be triggers that provoke us into these actions. Our legislature, aware of the disastrous effects that provoking someone can have, has added “provocation” [IC 35-42-2-3] to our criminal code. This does not provide an underlying offender with a mitigating factor for sentencing but is a separate offense, oft applied to the “victim” for instigating the underlying attack. Thus our legislature was aware that "victims" do induce an attack on themselves.
Joseph Warnock has stated to me, “I hate to say it but if [the judge] would have vacated the order that day, I could have seen and been with my kids that Father's Day, it probably would have prevented what happened.” This is not an effort on his part to diffuse blame as he also said, “I take and accept responsibility, it didn't matter what my wife was doing, I had lawyers, courts and judges I could have dealt with.” He has been contrite but also acknowledges the reality of the situation in saying, “I'm very sorry for what I did. It's all my fault, I definitely think the DVPO was influential in contributing to the murder.”
Joseph mentioned some resources that he could have accessed to help allay his frustration, but all are judicial in nature. When faced with the taunt of “you're not going to see the kids” coming just before Father's Day and knowing that their belongings have already been shipped to Hawaii the availability of the judicial process, slow as it is, is of no comfort. Instead an immediate outlet for frustration is needed. There needs to be a comforting ear that can listen to a parent's despair and help channel the frustration in an appropriate manner.
I propose that Indiana Code 34-26-5-3 be amended to include a requirement that courts attach a list of resource to the DVPO that could be accessed by the Petitioner or Respondent at anytime. This would include mental health counselors, police, legal aid and voluntary incarceration with all assistance being confidential and no payment or payment arrangement being required at the time of service. I sent the proposal to Mr Warnock who replied, “I certainly agree and love the idea of there being a resource list attached to the DVPO. What a tremendous idea, and that very possibly may have prevented me doing what I did. If I would have had in front of me places to call, places to help me deal with the stress that was involved with the situation, places to vent, etc. that very well may have made the difference.” It may even be better to require that a counselor at the county mental health department or an agency that serves the jurisdiction immediately contact the parties to open dialogue.
I don't want anyone to be subjected to the terrors of Domestic Violence. I especially don't want someone to be killed. The Warnock situation is most tragic in that on 22 June 2009 Angie and Joseph's daughters lost both parents to the effects of a hostile child custody battle.
Amazingly, I was personally vilified [which I am sure will continue] for my attempts to reduce acts of DV by addressing the matter in an open and honest way regardless of political ideology or financial motivations. In the Summer of 2009 I had never heard of Angie or Joseph Warnock. Two days after the murder, having only reading a newspaper account of the incident and relying upon my accumulated wealth of knowledge in the field, I made the following observation in a blawg posting:
Often times children are withheld from the other parent as punishment for a perceived wrong. This is commonly done through restraining orders which in the majority of cases do not even involve an allegation of violence. This is another case that demonstrates that a Protective Order does not protect and may actually lead to the death of a parent who was otherwise not threatened. In child custody cases every effort should be made to ensure that the children maintain healthy relationships with both parents. Not doing so cannot only damage the children but, as in this case, cost the alienator her life.
This is very strong language which I firmly stood upon and still hold to. This is not an effort to boast about my behavioural and personality intuition but, instead, is to note the well established relationship patterns between divorcing parents. It had been during the previous session of the Indiana General Assembly that I had been asked to give a presentation on false allegations of abuse and the affect on child custody proceedings. Thus these patterns were fresh in my mind.
Joseph has told me that he felt that Angie was using control of the children to punish him for a perceived wrong. In this case there was no allegation by Angie that Joseph had been violent or was a threat to her. [see page 12 of this document]. Joseph has repeatedly said that he is responsible but acknowledges that the DVPO was a contributor – “I'm responsible, but I think our system failed.” I referred to Angie as an 'alienator' – someone that tries to sabotage the children's relationship with the other parent. If getting a DVPO without cause – no allegation of abuse – then beginning the process of secretly relocating the children to what is effectively a foreign land, and finally sending the taunting message “you're not going to see the kids” is not alienation then I have misapplied the term.
Some will argue that Joseph Warnock must have been a violent abuser based upon the ultimate outcome. The more enlightened realize the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. This has been scientifically demonstrated through numerous experiments like the one by Rosenthal . In that, 18 school teachers among various grades were given a roster of their students along with corresponding IQ test results. There existed a statistically relevant correlation between the students' IQ and their subsequent testing results at the end of the year for all levels. However, researchers had randomly assigned IQ scores to the students. The performance of the students became consistent with the premise of their intelligence. This became known as the expectancy effect. The same outcome is often seen in juvenile justice. Children who are told that they are bad or criminals have a higher recidivism rate than those who are told they have value, are still learning, and simply made an error in judgment – condemning the behaviour not the person. Can a person be conditioned to reflect a particular level of intelligence, criminal behaviour or turn violent? Yes. Take a man who has not behaved violently, tell him that his is violent, remove him from his children and taunt him with threats that he will never see his children again and don't be surprised if the result is violence.
Divorce and contentious child custody litigation already produces enough stress and emotionally taxes the parents without inducing the additional feelings of betrayal and hopelessness that an unfounded DVPO can initiate. Parents in this situation don't need to be isolated to allow their subconscious to fulfill a script but instead need to be embraced by a system and community that shows that it cares about children. Please contact your legislator and request that he or she support legislation to provide resources to parties subject to a DVPO.
Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.
Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.
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