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Fewer than half of Bibb County domestic violence cases lead to conviction

Of the estimated 1,000 domestic violence cases prosecuted in Bibb County State Court each year, fewer than half result in a conviction.

Some of the cases don’t even make it to court because the alleged abuser goes to counseling or because the victim or a witness doesn’t show up for court, said Rebecca Grist, an assistant State Court solicitor.

For a host of reasons, abusers often remain in the home, increasing the chance of tragedies, such as the recent fatal stabbing of 28-year-old Jesse Jerrod Henley.

Henley was arrested eight times for beating his wife, Corinthia Henley, between 2006 and his death, but he was never convicted. Five of the cases were dismissed because a witness failed to show, according to court records.

Corinthia Henley, 30, met police at the front door of their Burton Avenue home about 5:45 a.m. March 15.

She had ended the cycle of abuse.

She told officers that her husband came into the bedroom early that morning and beat her, according to Macon police.

Jesse Henley told his wife to go to the kitchen and make him something to eat. As she prepared the food, her husband started to hit her again. She said her husband grabbed her by the back of the head and pushed her face into a pan of grease warming on the stove, telling her “the next time this grease will be hot,” according to a police report.

Corinthia Henley told police she grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and started stabbing her husband. She couldn’t remember how many times.

Police found Jesse Henley dead.

No charges have been filed in his death. A police report labeled the case a “justifiable homicide.” The police investigation won’t be complete until later this month. The district attorney’s office will then review the case and decide whether to press charges.

Henley declined to comment when The Telegraph contacted her at her home. She said she was grieving the loss of her husband and wanted her privacy.

COURT DECISION HAMSTRINGS PROSECUTORS

Grist estimated that up to 75 percent of domestic violence victims she deals with don’t want to testify against their abusers. That presents a challenge that can prevent a case from ending in a conviction due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this decade.

For 25 years, any spontaneous statement made to police after a crime — before a victim had time for reflection or coercion — could be used in court, Grist said.

But prosecution of domestic violence cases has gotten tougher in the wake of the 2004 Crawford v. Washington decision that governs how statements made to police can be used at trial.

“It changed the way of doing business,” Grist said. “Really, from a prosecuting standpoint, it threw a huge wrench into trying (domestic violence) cases.”

Now, either the victim or a witness to the incident must testify, Grist said. A police officer can no longer testify about what a victim told him at the scene.

There are a variety of reasons why victims choose not to testify, said Julie Steele, executive director of the Macon-based Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia.

For some people, it’s fear of physical harm or of losing economic support for their household, she said. Some women don’t want to send the father of their children to jail.

For others, a history of emotional abuse discourages victims from testifying. Many abused women are isolated from the outside world, and they depend solely on their abuser for emotional support.

“It’s all about the power and the control,” Steele said. “If he says don’t testify, she doesn’t testify.”

Even when an abuser is arrested and convicted, the worst can still happen.

Brian David Ogilvie, 54, was convicted of battering his wife four times between 1992 and 2000, according to State Court records.

In each case, Ogilvie pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year on probation. In some cases, he also was required to attend counseling and pay a fine, according to court records.

On March 7, 2007, Ogilvie fatally stabbed his estranged wife, 48-year-old Teri Elizabeth Ogilvie, at their home in Payne City.

He called 911 and sat on the front porch of their Comer Terrace home while waiting for Bibb County deputies to arrive.

He died on May 18, 2008, just 10 days after he was indicted by a Bibb County grand jury in the slaying. Ogilvie fell ill with pneumonia, suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma.

Teri Ogilvie’s brother, Harry Thompson, told The Telegraph at the time of Brian Ogilvie’s death that the two had been in a 15-year, violent, on-again, off-again relationship. They had divorced in the mid-1990s.

Steele said some victims tend to have more resources at their disposal than others, making it easier to break away from an abuser.

Some victims, for example, have supportive families, their own money or skills to make money if they make the choice to live on their own.

Bibb County sheriff’s deputies are required to make an arrest if they’re called to the scene of a domestic incident and there are obvious signs of violence, such as cuts and bruises on the victim, said Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. George Meadows.

“We are legally required to make an arrest,” he said. “It’s to protect the victim that may feel intimidated.”

Meadows said deputies write detailed reports and many times take photos of victims’ injuries. It can be frustrating when the cases don’t result in a conviction, he said.

But there are ways the community can help, Grist said.

“We need neighbors to be involved and ready to testify,” she said, adding that in many situations neighbors don’t want to get involved in someone else’s business.

It would also help if victims’ family members could offer more support and help get the victims to court to testify, Grist said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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