Francine Hughes, Angelique Lyn Lavallee, and Angelina Napolitano. What do these women have in common? They all have used the battered women defense in court. Some might say this defense is make believe, claiming it isn’t a real syndrome and is an excuse for murder. Let me put you in a hypothetical situation. You have been abused by your husband since you got married and one night he takes the abuse to another level. He is throwing things left and right, breaking mirrors and making his fists bleed. Your children are awakened and go downstairs, behind enemy lines. You are scared for their lives.
You have been beaten so many times he’s set it in your mind that he knows your whereabouts at all times and knows everything. You can’t run away; he’ll find you. You can’t stay and take it; you love your children too much. The only option is to fight back. Most criticize the defense without ever being in that situation. I believe it is a lack of knowledge on the issue. The jury and the judge only know it as a case of murder due to the fact that is the only thing they have solid evidence of. The forensics only have the blood samples, the DNA samples, the fingerprints and the weapon used.
They don’t know the events leading up to the murder. They don’t know what the woman, or suspect, had been through the day before or the week before or even the month before. These are the things that they will only be enlightened with if told by the woman in court. By this, they won’t believe what they are hearing. It’s secondhand information. They were not there when she was being threatened. They didn’t get front row seats to view the abusers aggression. That is the sole reason this syndrome isn’t taken seriously; no one really knows what happened.
The Battered Women Syndrome. Battered Women Syndrome is defined as “the mindset and emotional state of a battered woman. A battered woman is a woman who has experienced at least two complete battering cycles as described in dating and domestic violence”. (Walker, 1980) There are four general characteristics of a woman with Battered Woman Syndrome as written in The Battered Woman Syndrome by Dr. Lenore E. Walker: 1. The woman believes that the violence was or is her fault. 2. The woman has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere. 3. The woman fears for her life and/or her children’s ives. 4. The woman has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient. Battered Women Syndrome is often tied to Post Traumatic Stress Order, or PTSD. This is because the symptoms come about after a dramatic, or traumatizing, event. Obviously the first time a woman is abused is a traumatizing experience. Francine Hughes, The Burning Bed Francine Hughes was trapped, in a seemingly never ending cycle with a man who appeared aloof to the rest of the world and surly to her. It was a choke hold, she couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t do anything about it.
But the thing is, in a choke hold, as the air is being squeezed out of your lungs and you are slowly fading… there’s that one last push. There is that single second of adrenaline and that last rodeo in which God becomes your best friend as you fight for life. In a single sentence, Francine Hughes had enough. The date was March 9th, 1977. Mickey Hughes resembled a Barcelona bull. He began beating up Francine in one of their most violent collisions. He was pulling her hair and hitting her with his disgustingly familiar hands. He then proceeded to burn her secretarial course books.
Mickey threatened to take a sledgehammer to her car to prevent her from going to school. He complained about the food she made, and took away her dignity by smearing garbage all in her hair and face. When he went to bed, Francine contemplated. She then decided to take the chance, she knew she had no other choice. After 14 years of abuse, she was now going to turn the table around. “I was thinking about all the things that had happened to me… all the times he had hurt me… how he had hurt the kids,” she said. “I stood still for a moment, hesitating, and a voice urged me on. It whispered, ‘Do it!
Do it! Do it! ‘” She told her children to wait in the car. Hughes went out and into the garage and got gasoline, then made her way up to the bedroom and poured it all over the bed with Mickey lying in it. She took a match, and just like all of the affliction and despondency she dealt with, Mickey Hughes began to burn in flames. Although she told the court that he had threatened her life and that the murder was self defense, the jury decided that she was not guilty due to temporary insanity. This case made her a national infamy and broadcasted BWS to the nation. Angelique Lyn Lavalle, The Lavalle Case
On August 31st, 1986, Angelique Lyn Lavallee, shot her husband Kevin Rust in the back of the head as he left her room after an intense dispute. The court was told that during their relationship, Angelique was regularly abused by Rust. A psychiatrist testified in her trial that she had been threatened by Rust and that she felt suffocated and incapable of escaping the relationship. He said that the shooting “was a final desperate act by a woman who sincerely believed that she would be killed that night,” court heard. (Gollom, 5 cases using the battered women defence, 2012).
The jury decided to say she wasn’t guilty due to it being self defense, but that was changed by a majority of the Manitoba Court of Appeal and the case was sent back for retrial. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, where the subject focused on whether the evidence of the psychiatrist should have been before the court. The top court agreed that the evidence was relevant, showing that the Battered Woman Syndrome is a genuine defense. Angelina Napolitano, The Woman With The Ax On April 16, 1911, Angelina Napolitano took an ax and killed her husband Pietro while he was sleeping.
A lot of people think this is the first BWS case in Canada. At her trial, Angelina’s lawyer claimed that his client had been constantly battered by her husband and that he had knifed her six months before. But the judge ruled the evidence irrelevant, and Napolitano was found guilty. Even though the jury suggested mercy, the judge condemned her to hang. Napolitano became a notoriety at the time, with many supporting her sentence be changed. The federal cabinet did change her sentence to life, and she was allowed parole 11 years later.
The Solution.I have stated before that this syndrome isn’t taken seriously. Like an answer to a math problem I have a solution. Now, a woman could potentially go into court, with the accusation of murder, and use the Battered Women Syndrome to get away with it. She could potentially use it as the one thing the syndrome is accused of; an excuse. But what if a woman comes in and was actually in a life or death situation with the abuser? Are we going to shun her? Send her off to prison for life because it was in fact an excuse? The solution is a psychological evaluation. The women come in and go through the ormal court routine. If they plead the BWS, have a psychologist come in. Evaluate them, check for symptoms, etc. If the results come out and she does have the Syndrome she should be labeled as ‘not guilty. ’ Now, since there may be ways to fake this evaluation, the women should go through mental examinations to see if they may have a mental illness that would make them falsely accuse the men of abuse. The reason this should be a regular progress is because the women who deserve the right to not be labeled as a murderer should be able to start over. It’s a form of self- defense.
Statistics show that out of 223 cases reviewed where battered women killed their abusers, 75% were in the middle of a confrontation or assault. (Statistics) That proves that most of the time woman pleads this defense was in a situation where she would have to use self-defense. This should be a nationwide system since domestic violence is such an epidemic in the US and even around the world. Every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten. (Domestic Violence Statistics) 9 seconds. So if we just push this topic away and act like it doesn’t exist is that going to solve anything?
This needs to be regulated in court because it happens way too often. It needs to be considered a real defense because there is a really good chance that the women using it has actually been abused. In Reterospect These women are not born killers, nor vicious human beings. They are simply misunderstood victims of an abuse that seemed to have no end. The reason they point that gun, or raise that ax or burn that bed is because they are scared for their lives and the lives of their offsprings. The only reason they end a life is to start theirs over.
They do not go around killing men for the sick joy of it; they only kill the one at home because he’s made their life an everlasting nightmare. It’s defending themselves; it’s defending their kids, its defending that precious gift called life. Please believe me when I say I don’t want all women to get away with murder by misusing the rights of this defense. I only want the ones who down right deserve to be held not guilty. The ones who come to court with bruises all over their bodies and are shivering with fear are the ones who should go home and see their kids again and put the pieces back together.
I believe the women should go through evaluations if they plead the BWS case and if they show signs of it, they should not go to prison. The court should bring in a psychologist to evaluate the supposed victim and determine if they are telling the truth. Women may misuse it and lie to get away with murder, but for the ones who were actually in an abusive relationship… it shouldn’t be looked at as such. These women are mothers, daughters, friends, and sisters. They did what was needed to stay alive. Remember, it isn’t an excuse.