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Monthly Archives: January 2010

A Family’s Agony

January 28, 2010

Last week, Bulos (Paul) Zumont pled not guilty to charges of first degree murder and arson in the murder of Jennifer Schipsi in mid October 2009.   A probation violation charge will be added later.  His probation stems from an earlier conviction on domestic violence.  Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence provided services to Jennifer and grieve the loss of her life.

In an effort to support Jennifer’s family, our staff and volunteers attend criminal hearings in this matter.  My personal attendance has given me an intimate view of the grief experienced by a family that has lost a loved one to domestic violence.  Often in reading the newspaper about violent deaths, I feel empathy but I go about my business of living, with all the messes and joy life can bring.  This time is different.  I am witnessing the effects of murder.

The criminal justice system is cold and harsh at best.  Comfort for families of murder victims is not the first priority.  Their job is to get to the truth, which often brings ugly revelations.  The prosecutor in this case, Charles Gillingham is top notch.  He is professional and forthcoming. You sense that he knows what he is doing.  Unfortunately, what he has to report is gruesome.  He cannot sugarcoat the truth.

But another truth exists.  This family is in agony.  They look like lost souls not knowing what will happen next to exacerbate their grief.  For the family of a murder victim new, fresh pain comes constantly.  It must be unbearable.  As I watch the prosecutor discuss aspects of the case, I see the pins family members wear.  Jennifer’s smiling face on the pin reminds us that she was not just a murder victim; she was a vibrant, loving and giving person.  The juxtaposition of hearing the grotesque details of her death while looking at the face on the pin is heart wrenching.  Watching the expressions on the faces of family members provide the missing link.

If Zumont is found guilty of murder, another charge should be added to the list of charges against him – theft.  When Paul Zumont killed Jennifer, he stole a piece of her mother, father, aunts and uncles.  He stole a piece from friends and he stole a piece from our community.  No one will be the same, certainly not the family nor friends or even those of us who provide services to victims of domestic violence and their children.

This trial will expose the devastation of domestic violence.  Unfortunately, it won’t be unusual to us.  We see it day after day at Next Door.  Now the community needs to see it as well.  We made a commitment to raise the shades in homes where domestic violence wreaks havoc on people.  We cannot go back and roll them down.  Bringing light to the issue, as difficult as it is, sanitizes the space.  Light helps us to assess the damage and correct it.  Ultimately, we will be a better community for it.

We need your help to bring the light to this case.  We want to pack the courtroom in honor of Jennifer, bear witness to her life and demonstrate support for the family.  We cannot do this alone. Please email me at kkrenek@nextdoor.org if you can help.

Courtroom Drama

January 22, 2010

In the coming months you will be reading many posts authored by me about the murder trial of Jennifer Schipsi.  I will attend many of the hearings and the trial of Bulos (Paul) Zumont, who is charged with murder in the first degree and arson.  Allegedly Zumont killed Jennifer (whom he lived with at the time) and then set fire to the house in Palo Alto.  The court case moved to San Jose from Palo Alto for security reasons and as the trial goes on, I hope to provide you with a glimpse of the good, bad and ugly side of the criminal justice system.

I rarely sit in courtrooms these days.  It is a frustrating experience, however, everyone in our community should observe how the criminal justice system works at least once.  We would be better-informed voters when electing or re-electing judges.  I am indeed discouraged by what I witnessed in the Honorable Douglas Southard’s court in Palo Alto on three occasions.  It was disorganized and unprofessional.  No one seemed to know what he or she was doing.  Judge Southard didn’t have control of the activities nor did he seem to care.  Both time spent on paper work unavailability, and attorneys not presenting themselves in a timely manner waste our taxes.  Judge Southard engaged more in casual conversations with attorneys than getting to the business of running a courtroom.

The Zumont case brought tension and stress to the courtroom.  Supporters on both sides felt distress and anger.  The defendant didn’t help when he walked into the courtroom, still in shackles and gave thumbs up and a wink to his supporters.  It took too long for the judge to act on the defendants inappropriate behaviors.  At the last hearing date in Palo Alto last week, Judge Southard gave what I thought was an offensive and demeaning mini-lecture to those in attendance.  He indicated that people could not come to his courtroom wearing colors and waving banners like a football game.  No one carried a banner and the “colors” were purple ribbons worn unassumingly by Jennifer’s friends and family.  To liken the actions of both Jennifer’s and Zumont supporters to that of fans of football teams trivialized and minimized this case.  Emotions were raw and pain greatly felt, obviously as Jennifer’s mother said in the courtroom: “I just buried my daughter”.  One could expect demonstrations of anger and pain like this when each side must sit inside a small courtroom together.

Judge Southard could have stated that respect for the court system must persist even though the situation was painful for all.  And then, Judge Southard could have heeded the calling himself and conducted business in his court with the sense of decorum and respect that he was asking of others and that this court case and tragedy deserve.

For the latest on the case, click here.

Find Out How You Can Save Lives

25 Saves Lives NextDoor_card-1

25 Saves Lives Campaign is a brand new giving option that Next Door has just recently
launched. Posted on the Next Door website in November, the 25 Saves Lives Campaign
will help increase donations while making it easier to support Next Door. The 25 Saves
Lives Campaign uses an online platform, which allows donors to make a convenient
recurring $25/month donation charged to a credit card every month instead of a larger
one-time donation. Giving $25 dollars a month is equivalent to about 83 cents a day.

MAKE A RECURRING MONTHLY DONATION.

What can 83 cents a day do? Giving 83 cents a day can give Next Door’s shelters
beds, food, clothing, and other supplies needed. The benefits of giving to Next Door
include: getting women and children immediate safety away from their abusers, providing
knowledge and support for women who are being abused, and providing women
and children with programs so they are able to get back on their feet. A small amount
each month can make a big difference.

Alviso case highlights domestic violence that is often hidden within gay community

San Jose Mercury News

Published: Janurary 11, 2010

By Julia Prodis Sulek

On a ride home from her McDonald’s job two days before she was killed, Leti Martinez told her cousin that her violent relationship with her girlfriend was over, that she wanted a fresh start.

Despite fistfights, scratches, chokeholds, black eyes and one restraining order during their four-year relationship, Martinez and Jennifer Bautista made up as often as they broke up — a typical pattern in domestic cases, whether gay or straight. And, like the worst of abuse cases, this one ended in tragedy after Bautista allegedly ran over Martinez on Dec. 28.

The case has drawn attention to domestic abuse that is often hidden within the gay community, a group that is trying to put its best foot forward as it fights for equal rights. The problem can be particularly difficult to recognize within the lesbian community because of a lingering perception that “women don’t hurt each other.”

But the percentage of domestic violence cases among gay couples is the same as for straight couples — up to 33 percent, studies show — and abusive relationships in both groups suffer the same power and control issues that can lead to violence.

“This was always seen as a guy thing: Guys do this to gals, or they do it to each other, but women don’t do it to each other,” said Wiggsy Sivertsen professor of counseling services at San Jose State University, who has been involved in domestic violence issues for many years, including training San Jose police officers in how to handle abuse among gay couples.

While the gay community makes strides in gaining acceptance in society, “we’re much like other at-risk communities,” Sivertsen said. “If we expose the dirty laundry in our community, they say, ‘See? Look what those people do to each other.’ There’s a kind of reluctance to put ourselves in a situation to be judged that way.”

Just what Martinez, 20, and Bautista, 19, did to each other over the course of their relationship will likely be a major issue in the case against Bautista, who has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and is being held on $500,000 bail.

Deputy District Attorney Dana Overstreet said she couldn’t discuss the details of the investigation, though she noted “any evidence of domestic violence may become extremely important in this case, regardless of who the aggressor is.”

The only details released about the case so far is that neighbors saw the two women arguing outside Martinez’s Alviso home, then one witness saw Martinez jump on top of the Honda’s hood before Bautista started driving down the street. Bautista stopped twice but then fled. At some point during the nearly three-block ordeal, Martinez was run over.

A restraining order filed by Bautista against Martinez a year ago, and interviews with Martinez’s family, indicate that at various times, the women appeared to be mutual combatants.

Some of the conflict appeared to surround Bautista’s other relationships. In the court document granting a temporary restraining order last January, Bautista hand-wrote, with often poor punctuation and spelling, her allegations against Martinez:

“She come to my house and she started arguing about a guy I’m seeing now. She got jealous and broke my phone. Started hitting me and slapping me chocked me left me bruises, marks,” Bautista wrote. “She was threanting me she was going to ‘kill me’ and that, ‘if she can’t have me no one can.’ ”

Bautista has declined media interviews from jail and her family could not be located for comment. Police are hoping the Bautista family will come forward to speak with investigators as well as turn over the purple Honda that is registered to Bautista’s mother.

Martinez’s family, meanwhile, is outraged that instead of being charged with murder, Bautista has been charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, which carries a penalty of up to seven years. They say that Martinez would often come home with her face scratched and black eyes.

“Leave her,” Martinez’s mother, Rhoda Vasquez, would tell her. But her daughter would always say, “No, I love her. Mind your own business.”

It’s a refrain heard time and time again in domestic violence cases of all kinds. And for better or worse, Sivertsen said, “we are really not that different from each other.”

At the LGBTQ Youth Space at the Billy DeFrank Center in San Jose, advice pamphlets about “unhealthy and abusive relationships” are available in the hangout room for their clients between the ages of 13 and 25. Of the 45 young people who are taking advantage of the center’s free counseling service, 20 say they are in an abusive relationship, and six of those are women.

“I wish one of these people were referred here,” said Cassie Blume of the Youth Space program, “to get these kids connected rather than have 19- and 20-year-olds dealing with this themselves.”

Can Proposition 8 Save Lives?

January 13, 2010

Hi folks,

What a waste to have another life lost to domestic violence. Norma “Leti” Martinez died after allegedly being run over by her girlfriend, Jennifer Bautista. The facts of the case are still vague, but what is known is that Ms. Bautista filed a restraining order against Ms. Martinez about a year ago that was granted and were known to have had a violent and abusive relationship. Another life lost to domestic violence and I have to ask why? How could this have been prevented? Did the fact that they were a same sex couple have anything to do with further barriers they faced to receiving services that could have prevented this death? And if they did have services that they could have accessed, would they have had equal access to justice through those services, the same access to justice that heterosexuals would receive? Domestic violence occurs in roughly one-third of intimate relationships, regardless of sexual orientation. But while there are barriers to services that help heterosexual victims of domestic violence, wouldn’t there be even more hurdles for LGBTQ victims of domestic violence. Put another way, could we have somehow as a society prevented this death?

Ironically, discussion about this domestic violence tragedy comes as the US District Court in San Francisco weighs in on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which added language to the California Constitution that says that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” effectively banning and making illegal same sex marriages. Of course they can have domestic partnerships, a sort of marriage that is separate, but equal in the eyes of the law. And yet, another obstacle for an already ostracized community. This immense effort to provide GLBTQ community with equal rights beckons the question: what kind of effort would it take for a lesbian in a domestic violence relationship to come out doubly to friends, family and a greater society that already views her relationship as a second tier, one already not worthy of equal protection and understanding under the law. What kind of effort must it be for a gay couple to seek services that address domestic violence? How difficult it must be for members of this community to seek the same kind of attention for domestic violence that impacts their members.

For community members who are not in actuality seen as equals, how might they overcome victimization from domestic violence? Not without a societal sea change would we be able to offer them the same kinds of life-saving services that we provide now to women and men who have left life-threatening relationships. In the same way that we have started to recognize the rights of immigrants and sought to help immigrant victims of domestic violence, a once invisible population of victims, now we should recognize the rights of same sex couples, that they have a right to marry and that they have a right to the same unfettered access to justice and services that help them leave life-threatening, violent and abusive relationships.

To do this, legislators need to acknowledge that there are communities in their jurisdictions where individuals do not enjoy equal access to what we consider inalienable and undeniable rights. But for them to acknowledge this, they need to hear it first from you. I urge you to contact your local congressperson and ask them what they are going to do in order to prevent any other domestic violence deaths, from the GLBTQ community and from the community at large.

Peace,

Kathleen

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