Lawmakers say Strangulation is Precursor to Murder, Propose Increased Penalties

Oct 15, 2015

Experts say strangulation has become a red flag that leads to murder in domestic violence situations. That’s why -- as Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports -- legislators want to ramp up prison time for such an offense.

Amy Weber and Nicole Miller
Credit Andy Chow

Nicole Miller and Amy Weber fight back tears as they share their sister’s story. 

“We hope that women hear this message and if they’re being strangled and this type of abuse in their relationship that they’ll get help and get out while they can,” said Weber.

Their sister, Monica Weber Jeter, was attacked and strangled by her husband Andre Jeter last January. Andre was charged with a misdemeanor and spent 11 days in jail.

Nine months later Andre allegedly struck again. Only this time he’s accused of stabbing Monica to death in her sleep. Jeter is still waiting for trial. 

Monica’s sister Amy says that first strangling attack should’ve been taken more seriously and put Andre behind bars for a lot longer. 

“I think the obvious thing to me is that if he would’ve been convicted of a felony he may have been in prison on October 8th when he stabbed her. But instead he was out after 11 days," said Weber.

Representatives Stephanie Kunze and Michael Stinziano want to change that kind of problem for the future. Kunze, a Republican from Hilliard, and Stinziano, a Democrat from Columbus, introduced a bill that would make strangulation a second or third degree felony, depending on the situation. That comes with up to eight years in prison. 

Stinziano says it’s about buying the victim more time. 

“It’s getting that abuser away from the victim and providing that as a felony versus a misdemeanor provides that time," Stinziano said.

With more time, Kunze says victims can connect themselves to the right resources to get help and protection. 

“If you’re in a position where you’ve been being controlled by someone who supposedly loves you and you’re in a different mental state and you need some help that’s bigger than yourself,” said Kunze.

It’s important to take strangulations seriously, according to Kunze. She says if someone is strangled by a domestic partner, they’re seven times more likely to be murdered. 
 

From left to right: Rep. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), Nancy Neylon and Rep. Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus)
Credit Andy Chow

Strangulation could already be considered as assault with a possible felony charge.  

But Nancy Neylon with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network said the proposed change will encourage law enforcement to take strangling cases more seriously, something that has already started happening in other states with tougher strangulation laws.  

“They’re started to look for signs of strangulation, they’re starting to ask about strangulation, we’ve seen victims getting better medical attention having these kinds of injuries documented so prosecutors can move forward with these kinds of charges,” said Neylon.

In another step to chip away at the domestic violence crisis, two Democratic Representatives have introduced a measure that would protect people who are in serious relationships but not married, living together or have a child together. 

That provision would extend the right for a civil protection order to a victim of abuse from a partner they were dating. 

Meanwhile, the state is reviewing its criminal code to cut down on the amount of people it sends to prison. A coalition of liberal and conservative groups has called on lawmakers to stop proposing bills that would increase penalties until the review is finished. 

Kunze and Stinziano say they respect the current work of the recodification commission and that they talked to some of the members about their proposal. But in the end Stinziano said this is a measure that can’t be put on hold. 

“Because strangulation is an indicator of a homicide we don’t think that because lives are at stake we should be waiting,” Stinziano said. 

And it's something Nicole Miller is convinced could’ve helped her sister Monica. 

“Him being in jail extra time would’ve been able to give her the courage to reach out and find the resources cause it’s just one of those things that somebody may not leave cause they don’t necessarily know where to go, what can be done, they just feel stuck,” Miller said. 

The idea of strangulation as a felony is not exclusive to domestic assault. It can be applied to anyone, such as someone who puts another in a choke hold during a fight. 

The legislators said their bill is simply a tool for law enforcement and prosecutors to use at their discretion and that the felony charge does not automatically apply.

Andy Chow at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau.