The kind of guy who could kill his wife is not limited to any particular "type." Ugly guys kill as often as the cute ones do.


 

Barbara Tassinari’s body was still warm when people jumped on the story for strategic reasons.


Only hours after the 29-year-old Abington mother of two was allegedly executed by her husband, defenders of the suspected killer quickly offered up excuses: “He must have snapped – he seemed like such a nice guy.”


As if “snapping” is an excuse for murder and “nice guys” don’t kill their wives.


How soon we forget Scott Peterson – the quintessential boy next door – so handsome people still can’t believe he slaughtered his pregnant wife and nearly born child. We’re watching the same “Dream Date Ken” defense play out in the Neil Entwistle case. I swear the guy got his hair coiffed before his last court hearing.


Nice rhetorical stuff if you’re trying to spin good looks into reasonable doubt – but the truth is, John Tassinari, like all men, is exactly the “type” of guy who could kill his wife because he is, um, a man.


I am not saying that all men are killers. Only that the kind of guy who could kill his wife is not limited to any particular “type.” Ugly guys kill as often as the cute ones do.


But we pay attention more when the perpetrator or victim is good-looking – and everyone seems willing to exploit the extra light that shines on cases involving the “pretty people.”


Even victim advocates took advantage of the heightened media attention in Barbara Tassinari’s case to turn “theater of the tragic” into a demand for more resources “so that other women might be spared a similar fate.” More money for things like counseling and shelter beds will save lives, they said.


But while shelters can provide a life-saving option in some cases, and counseling can help women better understand abusive relationships, these things do nothing to stop batterers because they don’t get at the failure of our legal system to treat domestic violence as a serious public problem.


In theory, violence in the home is as much society’s problem as violence in the middle of Main Street. But almost all battering that doesn’t cause death is handled in the lowest level district courts, alongside motor vehicle infractions. To make matters worse, many cases are simply dismissed if the victim doesn’t feel like testifying. This is the essence of why women are dying in their own homes at a disturbing rate.


Prosecutors talk a good talk on the nightly news about how domestic violence is a serious crime, but their actions belie a far more cavalier attitude, especially compared to the messages we’re getting in other types of criminal cases.


In gang violence cases, when the key eyewitness doesn’t want to testify for fear of retaliation, prosecutors don't say, “OK, we’ll just drop the charges.” They offer the witness protection and even financial assistance including a safe place to live.


But when a woman doesn't want to testify against her abuser, even if it’s because the batterer has threatened her, many prosecutors are only too happy to drop the charges, saying they “respect the woman’s right to choose” – as if letting a victim control the criminal justice system has something to do with the politics of abortion rights.


With control as the driving force behind domestic violence, the government should not be ceding to a batterer the power to control his own criminal prosecution. What’s that old saying? – with justice like that


Most victimized women don’t need shelters and counseling. They need the equal protection of our laws, including swift, certain and fair punishments for criminals who use the sanctity of the home to insulate their brutality from public accountability.


To do this, we need prosecutors to adopt “No Drop” policies and “abuse exceptions” to spousal testimonial privileges. These things will make it impossible for victims to “drop the charges.”


It’s tempting to say a victim should be given the “choice” whether to testify. But “choosing” to live in a violent home is not a form of freedom any more than picking cotton was a “choice” for slaves.


A study of “no drop” policies in California found that by taking away the victim’s “choice,” batterers were more effectively held accountable, recidivism rates went down and because bullying the victim into dropping the charges was no longer possible, intimidation tactics were minimized.


A core tenet of our legal system is that it commands all citizens to testify about criminal activity. This is why an eyewitness to bank robbery cannot “choose” not to testify.


What I want to know is – when will violence against women be a “serious” enough crime to merit the same strong prosecutorial reaction?


Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England School of Law and radio talk show host. She can be reached at wmurphy@faculty.nesl.edu


The Patriot Ledger