Originally created 10/14/02

Homicide ranking spurs response



Catrina B. Johnson was dressed for bed when her husband shot her inside their south Augusta home in 2000.

She stumbled to her neighbor's doorstep, where James C. Johnson apparently chased her and shot her again. He then shot himself.

Mrs. Johnson was one of 70 women in Georgia killed by men in 2000, according to an annual study released this month by the Violence Policy Center. The study, called When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2000 Homicide Data, ranks Georgia 10th in the number of women per 100,000 killed by men. Mississippi was first. South Carolina was third.

In Richmond County, seven women were killed by men in 2000. Three of those deaths were related to domestic violence.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he is taking steps to address the rising number of domestic-violence cases by beefing up the unit that responds to them. Investigator Cheryl Dorsey recently joined Michelle Walden and Grace Wittke in the domestic violence unit.

"These investigations take a good bit of time, and two investigators just could not keep up with the workload," he said.

Sheriff Strength said that homicides are unpredictable but that law enforcement can take steps to prevent violence in the home from becoming deadly. He said many victims want to drop the charges after they have been battered.

"Our folks spend a lot of time with these people who want to drop charges," he said. "They go over what could be the consequences next time. Maybe this time it's a black eye and a broken arm, but next time it's their life."

Guns are the problem, according to Naomi Seligman, a spokeswoman for the Violence Police Center. In releasing its study, the nonprofit educational organization said that 76 percent of the female homicides in 2000 were committed with handguns.

"What we want to tell women is a gun does not offer her protection, but puts her life in jeopardy," Ms. Seligman said. "Their greatest threat is not a stranger. It's their boyfriend, their husband, their ex-husband."

She said a woman's gun could be used against her.

Ms. Seligman took issue with Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, who reminded women that they could pack a gun to protect themselves. The advice came after a serial killer had slain three women in Baton Rouge in the last year.

"That's a dangerous message to send to women," Ms. Seligman said. "These states need to look at other resolutions ... than telling women to buy guns."

Sheriff Strength disagrees. He said people should take steps to protect themselves. Owning a handgun is one solution, he said.

"A lot of times, it is used in self-defense and has saved someone's life," Sheriff Strength said. "I wonder what the opinion is of those families that lost a mother, a wife or a sister, who might have saved herself if she had been armed."

Last year, police say an Augusta woman shot her ex-boyfriend to death after he shattered a window at her home and confronted her with pieces of concrete in each hand. Tammie Renee Thompson was not charged in the July 25, 2001, killing of Gregory Leroy Brown.

But Ms. Seligman says she guesses that for every one woman who justifiably kills in self-defense 101 women are killed with guns.

"The fact is that the majority of women are not killed by strangers lurking in the dark but by those that are closest to them, including spouses, intimate acquaintances and close relatives," she said. "Guns don't offer protection, but guarantee peril."

So what does the Violence Policy Center advise Georgia to do to reduce the number of women killed by men?

"You need to educate women on options to protect themselves from domestic violence," Ms. Seligman said. "But make sure that guns are not the option you are selling."

SLAYING CASES

RICHMOND COUNTY VICTIMS

Police say seven women were killed by men in Richmond County in 2000. Here are the cases:

Jan. 6: Bradford Palmer shot Jacqueline Ballard, 34, in the head over a $350 drug debt. Police discovered her body in the trunk of Mr. Palmer's car during a traffic stop Jan. 7. The victim's unborn baby also died. A judge gave Mr. Palmer two life sentences in July 2001.

Feb. 19: Robert Redfield strangled his girlfriend, Sheila McAllister, 35, in his Sharpes Lane home after a fight. Mr. Redfield was given a life sentence in October 2000.

March 25: Police say James C. Johnson shot his wife, Catrina B. Johnson, 30, several times and then shot himself in the head. They were found on their neighbor's porch in the Breeze Hill subdivision.

Sept. 9: Sgt. Marni Glista, 21, died at Doctors Hospital five days after she was found unconscious in her Oakridge Drive home. Reinaldo J. Rivera is charged in her rape and slaying. He is also charged in three other slayings.

Nov. 15: Edith Ann Haynes, 57, was strangled in her mobile home in Windsor Court Park, which was then set on fire. A year later, a grand jury indicted Michael W. Bryant Jr. on murder and arson charges. Prosecutors say he owed the victim money for a house.

Nov. 24: Niteka Nicole Wesbey, 18, was shot to death in her Marks Church Road apartment by 17-year-old Marcus Moore. Police say Mr. Moore began shooting when another teen didn't have his gang notebook. He was sentenced to life in prison in August 2001.

Dec. 24: Diana Wheeler, 34, was stabbed in the thigh inside the Fleming Drive home she shared with boyfriend Michael Anthony Wilcher. She later died. In March 2001, a grand jury indicted Mr. Wilcher in the slaying.

AIKEN COUNTY VICTIMS

Aug. 4: Jessica Carpenter, 17, was found dead in her Crosland Park home. Police charged Robert Franklin Atkins this year with murder and rape after DNA evidence linked him to her death.

Oct. 17: Anita Martinez, 30, was shot in the head by her ex-boyfriend when he stormed into her Jackson home. She had four children. Julio Enrique Echevarria, 50, was sentenced to life in prison in October 2001.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.