Battered Justice - Prosecutor Problems
Paula Banks says her ex-husband wanted her dead.
"He's blacked my eyes. He's cracked my ribs. He's tackled me from behind."
Paula and Michael Banks have a two-year-old son, Chase. Things took a nearly-fatal turn on the morning of Jan. 23 when, Paula says, Michael tried to kill her.
"We started arguing. I tried to tell him to calm down, you know. He woke the baby up. He was screaming so loud, so I had Chase," she said. "I went to the phone to call the police and he jerked the phone out of the wall and busted a hole. He broke the phone, and just shattered the phone, so I couldn't call anybody. He told me that he was going to fix me one way or the other, that he was going to go and get his gun and kill me and he was going to take the baby and nobody would ever find him. So he went out to the truck, brought the gun back in and gauged it," Paula continued. "And I shoved Chase over to the side of me to try and protect him as much as I could. While he went out to the truck, I had my cell phone in my pocket in here. And when he went out there to get the gun I called my friend, and she knows that if I call and hang up that there's something seriously wrong. So she called the police for me."
Polk County sheriff's deputies arrived and arrested Michael. Next, Deputy Ron Lovell says he gave prosecutor John Porter a probable cause statement recommending Porter charge Michael with domestic assault, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon. But, Porter ignored the deputy's recommendation because Paula would not testify against Michael.
"I didn't want to get in a courtroom and sit there and look at him," she explained. "That's just torture."
Mary Beck, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, understands why Paula and many victims don't want to take the witness stand.
"We know that when a woman separates from her abuser and takes legal action to get away," Beck said, "that is when she is most at risk for getting murdered."
When Paula said she wouldn't testify, prosecutor Porter dropped the case, although Beck says Porter could have prosecuted Michael without Paula's testimony.
Unlike Porter, Audrain County prosecutor Jason Lamb has a no-drop policy.
"We won't drop or dismiss a domestic violence case simply because the victim wishes us to, or wishes for charges to be dropped."
And, Lamb said, his system works to the victim's benefit.
"Sometimes victims can be relieved if they find out that a prosecutor won't dismiss charges," he said, "because it's someone else besides them making the case go forward."
Lamb said there are other tools to use in court besides a victim's testimony, such as hospital records, police testimony, 911 phone tapes, photos and witnesses. Banks says Michael's abuse hospitalized her seven times. In the sheriff's report, Michael admitted he threatened to kill Paula. Deputies took pictures of the broken phone and holes in the wall, and confiscated Michael's gun and ammunition. Paula's friend who arrived at the scene said she would have testified.
"As prosecutors, we're seeking justice," said Lamb. "And sometimes we have to work harder for it due to the cycle of violence that affects domestic violence victims. That doesn't mean, though, that you don't stop trying."
Because Porter never prosecuted Michael Banks for domestic assault, Michael can keep his gun permit and fight for custody of son Chase.
"Victims of domestic violence recognize that their husbands and boyfriends can do violence without being held accountable," added Beck. "So it's very scary for them. There is no help for them, no ultimate help for them."
Only a handful of prosecutors in Missouri have no-drop policies. Friday night at 10:00, KOMU News will show you a mother and father who say prosecutor Porter's lack of a no-drop policy is endangering their daughter's life. Is the problem lax enforcement of laws, or lack of funding to enforce the laws?