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Melissa Jeltsen
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'Making A Murderer' Left Out Disturbing Details Of Steven Avery's Past

(14) Comments | Posted January 15, 2016 | 11:42 AM

In the hit documentary “Making A Murderer,” Steven Avery is portrayed as a harmless, simple man whose skirmishes with the law prior to being convicted of a brutal rape and murder are chalked up to youthful idiocy.

The film notes that he was involved in a few burglaries, burned a cat alive, and ran his female cousin off the road in a fit of rage. But for the most part, there’s nothing offered by the filmmakers to suggest he had a history of violence against women.

In a new interview, however, Avery’s ex-fiancee Jodi Stachowski says he was a violent and abusive "monster" who strangled her and threatened to kill her during their two-year relationship.

"He'd beat me all the time, punch me, throw me against the wall," Stachowski told HLN on Wednesday. "He's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Records from the Manitowoc County sheriff's department obtained by The Huffington Post confirm that police responded to domestic incidents involving Avery and Stachowski, as well as his former wife, Lori. 

The documentary "Making A Murderer" follows the story of Steven Avery, who was convicted of raping Penny Beerntsen in 1985. He spent 18 years behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence. After release from prison, Avery filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against those responsible for his lost years: Manitowoc County, along with its former sheriff and district attorney.

In 2005, he was arrested in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach, a photographer who was last seen on his property. The documentary suggests that a vindictive and corrupt police department may have framed Avery because of the looming lawsuit.

Stachowski, Avery's former fiancee, appears in the documentary as one of his strongest supporters. Now, she says she was lying in the footage used in "Making A Murderer," and that Avery coerced her into saying positive things about him. 

"He told me how to act,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to get hurt." 

Stachowski described one incident in which Avery beat her and then strangled her. Police records show that in September of 2004, she reported that Avery pushed her to the floor, hit her and told her he was going to kill her. She then said he strangled her to the point where she lost consciousness. When she woke up, she told police, Avery was dragging her to his car. They were eventually stopped by an officer and Avery was taken into custody. 

Police records also document another incident where Stachowski said she received a verbal threat from Avery while she was out of jail on work-release privilege.

There's also evidence that Avery may have abused his former wife, Lori. In a police report from 1983, Avery's sister-in-law told police that Avery "beat up on his wife, and she left home and went to a domestic violence center."

Then in 1984, police responded to a "family trouble" incident at the Avery residence, but Lori declined to give a written statement. 

After Avery was imprisoned for the 1985 rape of Penny Beerntsen, Lori reported to police that she received threatening letters in the mail from her husband -- a fact the documentary breezes over quickly.

"Fuck you if you dont brang up my kids I will kill you I promis. Ha Ha (sic)" one reads. Another one says simply: "I will get you."

Of course, even if Avery is guilty of domestic violence, it doesn't mean that he is guilty of murder. But it's a relevant part of the puzzle, as it's not uncommon for men who commit violent crimes to have a history of abuse against intimate partners.

"Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first," wrote activists Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet, who explained the phenomenon in the New York Times. "Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions."

It’s worth noting that strangulation is a known predictor of future homicide, meaning that some men who strangle will go on to kill. As Gael Strack, one of the nation’s leading strangulation experts, told The Huffington Post in a previous story, “The minute you put pressure on someone’s neck, you are really announcing that you are a killer.”

Stachowski said she is speaking out now because she wants people to know the truth. “He is not innocent,” she said.

Avery’s defense attorney, and filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi could not immediately be reached for comment.


Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.



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When Women Must Choose Between Abuse And Homelessness

(0) Comments | Posted January 12, 2016 | 11:28 AM

NEW YORK -- Even the baby, at 7 months old, seemed to know something wasn’t right. She cried and trembled, inconsolable. Her big brother, only 5, was tense. Their mother was scared and on the run, and they could feel it.


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Please, Stop Locking Up Pregnant Women For Using Drugs

(2) Comments | Posted January 10, 2016 | 6:34 PM

There's a growing consensus in the U.S. that drug addiction is a public health issue, and sufferers need treatment, not prison time. But good luck if you are pregnant. 

A short film released Monday shines a light on a recent trend among states to criminally prosecute women for using drugs while pregnant. The video, created by Brave New Films, investigates the effect of "feticide laws" across the country. Originally passed to protect pregnant women from violence, women's health advocates say these laws are now being used to prosecute pregnant women themselves.

In 2014, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to pass a law allowing women to be charged with a crime if their babies are born with symptoms of drug withdrawal. 

The state was responding to a dramatic rise in the number of babies born with "neonatal abstinence syndrome," a group of symptoms that can occur when babies are in withdrawal from exposure to narcotics. Medical professional stress that while babies with NAS may be irritable, the condition is treatable and has not been associated with long-term negative consequences. 

Yet the same cannot be said of Tennessee's law.

Health advocates have reported that women are avoiding critical prenatal care and even leaving the state to give birth because they are afraid of facing arrest and losing custody of their children. While it's not clear exactly how many women have been arrested under the new law, in Shelby County alone, at least 22 women have been prosecuted. 

"This policy has resulted in separating mothers from their children and incarcerating people struggling with drug use instead of ensuring access to effective options for recovery," Allison Glass, state director of Healthy and Free Tennessee, a nonprofit women's advocacy group, said in a press release. "This law is hurting far more people than it could ever help."

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a nonprofit civil rights group, said that women targeted for arrest for pregnancy-related crimes are disproportionally low-income and African-American. 

"Very few low-income people can afford high-powered attorneys who are going to challenge the charges against them," she said. 

Tennessee's law is due to expire under a sunset provision in 2016, unless lawmakers move to extend it. 

While Tennessee is currently the only state to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy, a lawmaker has proposed similar legislation in Missouri. Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, used interpretations of existing laws to prosecute pregnant women who use drugs.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states consider substance abuse during pregnancy to be child abuse under civil child-welfare statutes. 


Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.


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What Obama's New Move On Guns Does For Domestic Violence Survivors

(0) Comments | Posted January 6, 2016 | 1:41 PM

Clai Lasher-Sommers was 13 when her abusive stepfather shot her in the back. It took her six months to walk again. On Tuesday, the 58-year-old sat steps from President Barack Obama as he announced his plan to curb gun violence through executive action. A...

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Prison Chaplain Won Employee Of The Year While Female Inmates Say He Was Sexually Assaulting Them

(0) Comments | Posted January 4, 2016 | 3:52 PM

In January of 2013, Kenneth Dewitt, a prison chaplain at a women’s correctional facility in Newport, Arkansas, was invited to the governor’s mansion, then occupied by Democrat Mike Beebe.

The special occasion was the “Pinnacle Awards,” an annual event held to recognize achievements of Arkansas’...

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Proposal To Ban People From Buying Guns During Divorce Gets Pushback

(1) Comments | Posted December 23, 2015 | 1:40 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Georgia lawmaker behind a controversial new bill to ban people going through divorce proceedings in the state from buying guns has responded to pushback by adding language to more narrowly target people with a history of domestic abuse. 

The original measure would...

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New York Bans 'Barbaric' Practice Of Shackling Pregnant Inmates

(0) Comments | Posted December 23, 2015 | 9:34 AM

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation on Tuesday banning the practice of shackling incarcerated women in New York during pregnancy. 

Under existing law, New York already bans the use of shackles -- which include handcuffs, ankle restraints and heavy waist chains -- on women while...

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Former Prison Chaplain Charged With Sexually Assaulting Female Inmates

(3) Comments | Posted December 17, 2015 | 5:41 PM

A former prison chaplain at a women’s prison in Newport, Arkansas, was charged with 50 counts of sexual assault involving three inmates on Thursday.

Authorities allege that Kenneth Dewitt, 67, forced three female inmates at McPherson Unit into oral...

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Inside The Hidden World Of Adult Eating Disorders

(0) Comments | Posted December 17, 2015 | 3:24 PM

Toni Saiber was going through a divorce when her soon-to-be ex-husband made a passing comment about her weight.

The jab stung and reverberated in her head: She was 30, about to be back out on the dating market, and felt particularly vulnerable....

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Cops Get New Guidance On Responding To Sexual Assault And Domestic Violence

(2) Comments | Posted December 15, 2015 | 12:41 PM

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced new guidance Tuesday designed to help law enforcement prevent gender bias when responding to sexual assault and domestic violence incidents.

"We know that sometimes this bias, whether implicit or explicit, can stand in the way of effective law...

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Dave Navarro Opens Up About His Mother's Murder In New Documentary

(0) Comments | Posted December 14, 2015 | 11:02 AM

It's common for people who survive a traumatic event to retell the story over and over, trying to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible. Tragedies defy reason; they shatter our sense of order. Explaining the story -- attempting to fit all the jumbled pieces back into place -- can be profoundly healing.

For Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro -- who recently produced a feature-length documentary exploring the darkest moment of his life, the murder of his mother, Connie -- the experience was emotionally taxing, and infinitely valuable.

"The truth is, there were times when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell it," Navarro said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "But I think on a therapeutic level, it was worth seeing through. ... The rewards have been revealing themselves as they go."

"Mourning Son" is directed by Navarro’s best friend, Todd Newman, giving the film an intimate feel. Together, the friends explore the circumstances surrounding Connie's death, and examine how a single traumatic incident fundamentally shaped the rest of Navarro's life. 

Connie Navarro was a strikingly beautiful model with fair blonde hair. Friends and family interviewed in the film described her as generous and warm, deeply cherished by her community. She divorced Navarro's father when he was 7, and they remained on good terms.

In 1983, she broke up with her then-boyfriend, bodybuilder John Riccardi. He began to stalk her, calling her relentlessly and following her when she left the house. At one point, he showed up at a restaurant where she was eating and mimicked shooting her with his fingers cocked like a gun.

On March 3, 1983, Riccardi broke into Navarro's West Los Angeles condo and shot her and her friend Sue Jory to death. By a chance of scheduling, Navarro, who was 15 at the time, wasn't home. He believes he would have been killed if he had been. 

Riccardi was on the run for almost eight years. At the same time, Navarro was being catapulted into stardom as the lead guitarist for Jane’s Addiction. In the film, he describes the dissonance of being on a world tour and getting famous, all while knowing his mother’s killer was on the loose.

Riccardi was eventually caught in 1991, after "America’s Most Wanted" aired a segment about him. He was sentenced to death for the murders, but in 2012, the California Supreme Court overturned the sentence, and he was resentenced to life without parole.

Although Connie was killed by an estranged boyfriend in a domestic violence homicide, Navarro said he didn’t connect the dots that his film was dealing with domestic violence until they were in the midst of making it. 

It’s almost been a rebirth of my relationship with her, in the light. Dave Navarro, on his deceased mother.

"I think that’s partly because I was so close to the events as a child, especially being in the 1980s, those words weren’t really thrown around," he said. "As we were putting the project together, it dawned on me that that’s what I’m talking about."

Around three women a day are killed in domestic violence homicides; heartbreakingly routine tragedies that leave children across the country without their mothers. While the public often hears about women killed by their partners, it is rarer to hear from the children left behind. That's where Navarro’s story is unique and especially resonant.

In recent years, Navarro has become involved in advocacy work on domestic violence, participating in Safe Horizon’s Put The Nail In It campaign and appearing in a PSA for the "No More" campaign. 

One of the goals of the film is to be a cautionary tale, Navarro said, and help people recognize the signs of domestic violence before they accelerate.

"Ultimately, I hope that the reason for making the film is bigger than just my story," he said.

Navarro is now clean and sober, but the film lingers over the years of his heroin addiction, revealing just how close to death he came. He is careful not to blame his addiction on his mother's murder, and said he was frustrated that some viewers of the film interpreted it that way.

"I was well on my way to being a drug addict before this," Navarro said. "Millions and millions of people go through traumatic events and don’t get high. I used knowledge of this event to get away with using drugs."

On the whole, digging deeply into an uncomfortable, painful part of his life appears to have brought Navarro some peace. In one of the most poignant moments of the film, Navarro describes how making the documentary helped him unlock memories of his mom that he had long repressed. 

The traumatic event had created a schism in his life, he explained: before the murder and after. Everything before the murder was locked away and distant, the intensity of the cataclysmic event eclipsing it. “Your body just kind of shocks itself into a protective state, builds a shell around itself,” he said.

But while making the film and reconnecting with neighbors and friends who knew Connie, Navarro was able to access that time before the murder, when she was simply his mother.

"It’s almost been a rebirth of my relationship with her, in the light," he said in the film. "My memories of her are no longer shrouded in sadness."

The documentary is available to rent or purchase on iTunes

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her onTwitter.


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Victims Of Ex-Oklahoma Cop Convicted Of Serial Rape Speak Out

(3) Comments | Posted December 11, 2015 | 12:57 PM

The day after former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was found

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Listen To Women Describe The Horror Of Being Shackled While Pregnant

(0) Comments | Posted December 10, 2015 | 12:11 PM

"It's just so degrading."

"I know I made a mistake, but this is a totally different punishment that no one deserves."

"It was the most dehumanizing, embarrassing, degrading, animalistic thing that I have ever experienced."

Those are the words of formerly incarcerated women in New York who were shackled while pregnant -- a practice that is still totally legal in the state, but might not be for much longer.

A state bill that would outlaw the use of shackles on incarcerated women during all stages of pregnancy is headed for New York governor Andrew Cuomo's desk.

A new video, produced by The Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group that monitors prison conditions in the state, features a handful of women talking about the physical and emotional pain of being shackled while pregnant.

A few women described tripping and falling while shackled. One woman dropped her child. Another woman tearfully recounted having a miscarriage while being handcuffed to a hospital bed. 

"We are confident that [the bill] will be on the governor's desk by the end of the year and confident that he will do the right thing and sign the bill," said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, formerly of the Correctional Association of New York and now co-director at the Women & Justice Project.

In 2009, New York banned the shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth (including labor and recovery), but by law women were still allowed to be shackled during the rest of her pregnancy. However, a report earlier this year found that the legislation was not being properly implemented. 

The 2015 Anti-Shackling Bill, which passed the state legislature this summer, strengthens the 2009 law and extends the ban on shackling to include the entire pregnancy, and an eight-week postpartum period.

It also prohibits correctional staff from being inside the delivery room during the birth, unless requested by the woman or medical professionals.  

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes shackling women during labor because of the significant health risks associated with the practice, including "increased likelihood of falls, trauma and limited access for treatment during medical emergencies."

Once the bill lands on Cuomo's desk, he will have 10 days to either sign or veto it.  

Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.

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Oklahoma Ex-Cop Convicted Of Serial Rape

(29) Comments | Posted December 7, 2015 | 9:03 AM

Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer who was accused of sexually assaulting 13 black women while...

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A Cop Faces Charges Of Serial Rape, Yet His 13 Black Accusers Are On Trial

(10) Comments | Posted December 4, 2015 | 12:40 PM

The woman said she was high and walking alone when the cop stopped her. He searched her, she said, finding a crack pipe, which he told her to smash. Then he drove to her house and raped her on her own bed, keeping his gun belt on during the ordeal, she testified.

The witness is one of 13 black women who have accused Daniel Holtzclaw, 28, a former Oklahoma City police officer, of sexually assaulting them while on duty. Holtzclaw faces 36 counts, including sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy and rape. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

As she spoke to the court two weeks ago about her alleged rape, the woman wore an orange uniform, her hands and feet in shackles, as she herself was currently jailed on a drug charge. 

It was hard not to see the moment as symbolic. The 13 women who came forward -- many of whom have criminal records and substance abuse problems -- have faced attacks on their credibility during the course of the trial. Because of their histories, it seemed they were on trial as much as Holtzclaw. 

As the case draws to a close, a picture has emerged of a predator who allegedly targeted the most vulnerable women in society using the power of the badge. Holtzclaw would stop the women in his patrol car, often when they were walking alone. He'd search them for drugs and run criminal background checks to see if they had a record, or were wanted on a warrant. Then, they said, he would force them into sex, threatening them with arrest if they didn’t comply.

"What kind of police do you call on the police?" One of the witnesses, who was only 17 at the time of the alleged rape.

One woman alleged that she was handcuffed to a hospital bed, high on PCP, when Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex on him. Another woman testified that Holtzclaw ran her name and found out she had city warrants, and then drove her to an abandoned school and raped her.

Another victim explained to the court that she didn’t tell anyone about Holtzclaw's alleged abuse because she’d "never been on the right side of the law." The last woman to testify, who was only 17 at the time of her alleged rape, summarized the group sentiment with one salient and heartbreaking question: "What kind of police do you call on the police?"

The alleged assaults occurred over a period of seven months. The investigation into Holtzclaw was triggered after one victim, who has been identified by local media as a 57-year-old grandmother, went to the police and reported a sexual assault.

A recent Associated Press investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement found almost 1,000 cops who lost their badges over a six-year period for sexual misconduct -- a number the AP called "unquestionably an undercount."

But while the country is in the midst of a serious reckoning with police brutality after a string of high-profile cases of black men and boys being killed by cops (see: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Robert Chambers and on and on), the Holtzclaw case has failed to capture national attention.

"It’s because they’re black women, they’re poor women," said Grace Franklin, activist and co-founder of OKC Artists For Justice, who has been organizing support for the victims.

She said that Holtzclaw’s defense attorney was very aggressive when cross-examining the women, constantly reminding the jury of their various criminal records and histories of drug use in an attempt to destroy their credibility. "[Holtzclaw] purposely chose them because of those things," Franklin said. 

"They are not the perfect victims, because that doesn't exist." Salamishah Tillet, co-founder of the nonprofit group A Long Walk Home.

She said she was optimistic about the outcome of the trial because of the physical evidence and testimony presented, including DNA evidence.

"We want this case to be a warning for this country to wake up and deal with the rape and sexual assault epidemic that's happening right now," she said. 

Salamishah Tillet, co-founder of the nonprofit group A Long Walk Home, said she was disappointed the trial hasn’t resulted in a greater public outcry, given that it involves a trifecta of police brutality, racism and sexual violence.

"You have the most vulnerable population experiencing an intersection of violence here, and it’s not surprising that they remain invisible in a lot of ways," she said.

Tillet said the lack of interest was likely due in part to the nature of the offense: Sexual violence is just not taken as seriously as other crimes. 

"The fact that these women were sexually assaulted by a police officer fits squarely within a narrative of racial inequality and racial violence, but we don’t call it that because they were women," she said. "They are not the perfect victims, because that doesn't exist."

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday. An all-white jury will decide Holtzclaw's fate.

Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women's health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.


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Before Terrorizing Planned Parenthood, Shooter Targeted Women Closer To Home

(0) Comments | Posted December 2, 2015 | 11:38 AM

Before he allegedly opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and killed three people he had ostensibly never met before -- a cop, an Iraq war veteran and a mother -- Robert Dear aimed his fury much closer to home. 

A profile...

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'Jessica Jones' Uses Superheroes To Expose The Terror Of Domestic Abuse

(1) Comments | Posted November 30, 2015 | 2:11 PM

As superpowers go, Jessica Jones doesn’t have much to boast home about. She can lift heavy stuff, sure, but only up to a point. She can jump, not fly. But her ability to survive an abusive man who controlled her every move for eight...

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The U.S. Is Depressingly Good At Putting Women Behind Bars

(2) Comments | Posted November 24, 2015 | 9:51 AM

The United States puts women behind bars at a higher rate than every other country in the world, save for Thailand.

Though the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world's female population, it accounts for nearly 30 percent of incarcerated women globally, according to 

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Hillary Clinton: Gun Violence Is A National Emergency

(2) Comments | Posted November 19, 2015 | 12:06 PM

NEW YORK -- Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday called gun violence a "national emergency" and urged the public not to give up hope that the gun lobby can be defeated.

Clinton made her comments Tuesday evening as she was awarded the...

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Mom Whose Twin Babies Were Killed Has A Message About Domestic Violence You Shouldn't Ignore

(5) Comments | Posted November 18, 2015 | 11:17 AM

Megan Hiatt, 22, is still recovering in a Florida hospital after allegedly being shot by her boyfriend in a harrowing attack that killed her five-month-old twin daughters and her father. But she’s wasting no time in spreading the word about the warning signs of domestic violence.

On Friday, police say, 28-year old Gawain Rushane Wilson shot Hiatt, their five-month-old twins, Hayden Rose and Kayden Reese Hiatt, and Hiatt’s father, Travis James Hiatt, before turning the gun on himself at his home in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Megan Hiatt, who is currently in critical but stable condition, was the only survivor. From her hospital bed, she asked her mother Melissa Bateh to speak out publicly about the shooting in order to raise awareness about domestic violence, and to help other women before it’s too late.

In the U.S., around three women a day are killed in domestic violence incidents. Experts believe there are often multiple warning signs prior to homicide attempts. 

"A parent sometimes knows," Bateh told First Coast News in an interview on Monday. "I just knew in my gut that their relationship was not a healthy relationship."

Bateh said Wilson was controlling, taking away Hiatt's phone and refusing her access to the car. He would grab her and break her things, Bateh said, and was verbally abusive, calling her daughter fat. "The babies were three days old and he would ask her, 'So when are you going to start losing weight,'" she said.

In an unimaginable act of cruelty, she said, Wilson forced her daughter to hold the twin babies while he shot them. "He wanted to destroy her world, and he wanted her to watch it be destroyed," Batech said.

Hiatt was shot around five times, she said, and lost part of a breast. Friends have set up a GoFundMe page for medical costs and funeral expenses. 

While police wouldn’t speculate if Hiatt was moving out of her home at the time of the attack, a pickup truck with boxes in the bed was seen in the driveway on Friday. Women are at a higher risk of being killed when they are attempting to leave an abusive partner and during the period immediately after fleeing.

Wilson had a prior history of domestic violence.

According to First Coast News, in 2013 he was arrested for strangulation, for which he served two days in jail. Then nearly seven months after that arrest, a woman filed an injunction for protection against Wilson for repeated dating violence.

Strangulation is one of the best predictors of a future homicide in domestic violence cases. Research has found that if a woman has been strangled by an abusive partner in the past, she is seven times more likely to become a homicide victim. As Gael Strack, one of the nation's leading strangulation experts previously told The Huffington Post: "The minute you put pressure on someone’s neck, you are really announcing that you are a killer."

It's not uncommon for shootings that involve multiple victims, such as Hiatt's, to be related to domestic violence. A HuffPost investigation that looked at five years of mass shooting data found that in 57 percent of shootings in which four people were killed, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. 

Despite the heinous act, Bateh said she does not hate Wilson.

“I think, on some level, he was a victim at some point in his life to push him to this," she said. “It was the ultimate 'I’m in control'… an ultimate 'Screw everybody.'"

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


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