Prosecutor speaks to domestic violence task force

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecutor Angel Woodruff can recall presenting a case where a domestic violence victim suffered more than 20 years of sexual abuse and the jury voted to acquit the defendant of the charges.

After the trial ended, a juror told Woodruff she thought the abuse could not have been as severe as testimony indicated, because if it had been, the victim would have fought back by "setting his bed on fire or shooting him or something," Woodruff said.

"This isn't television -- Farrah Fawcett doesn't star in all of our cases," Woodruff said Tuesday at a meeting of the domestic violence task force at Cape Girardeau VFW Post 3838.

The domestic violence task force was formed about three years ago as a means of facilitating better communication between social service agencies that typically deal with domestic violence survivors, said Linda Garner, director of Safe House for Women.

The meetings are held quarterly and are open to the public, Garner said.

About 25 agencies from around Southeast Missouri participate in the task force meetings, now that recent recruiting efforts have begun to pay off, Garner said.

"We felt that communication needed to be improved," Garner said.

At the meetings, members discuss policies and how they can better provide services to those experiencing domestic violence. The also hear from speakers like Woodruff who can help them understand the different processes victims face in the criminal justice system.

Recently, Cape Girardeau detective Debi Oliver talked about the process victims go through when they report acts of domestic violence to police.

Woodruff's presentation involved the second half of that process: what happens when a domestic assault case is filed in court.

Woodruff has served as assistant prosecutor for more than 10 years.

Domestic violence cases can be among the most frustrating for prosecutors to handle, Woodruff said.

A majority of victims of domestic violence are not willing to cooperate with prosecutors because of their desire to protect the defendant, their husband or boyfriend, Woodruff said.

"Some women just want the beating to stop; they're not really concerned about prosecuting, they're not wanting him to pay, they just want it to stop," Garner said.

Woodruff said it's not unusual for victims of domestic violence to become more worried about the defendant than they are about their own welfare.

They will often recant and say that they lied about the abuse, sometimes repeatedly changing their stories back and forth, in an attempt to get or to keep their abuser out of jail, Woodruff said.

About 98 percent of the domestic assault cases Woodruff files involve a male defendant and female victim, though the reverse does occasionally occur, she said.

Many more may be cooperative but scared of facing their abuser in a courtroom and having to testify, she said.

"Even when victims are cooperative, they just have to go through this whole, ugly process," Woodruff said.

"You just hope for the best."


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