Sunday, May 1, 2011

Domestic violence debate still rages nearly a year after murder-suicide

This piece is brought to us by contributing author Rogan Mattock. It is a question-posing rebuttal to a column written by Jaqueline Axt, an advocate of domestic-violence related legal reform and the sister of Linda Riccardulli, who was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide in July 2010.

A related article published previously by the MSMR can be viewed here...

Murder-suicide case raises questions about right to bear arms

* * *

It is only appropriate that I begin by expressing my sympathies and offering my condolences to the family and friends of the departed. I am truly saddened by this horrific crime, and was as shocked as any native or local of Dutchess County, New York, where this event took place when I began to hear the news of what had happened.

In the very early hours of a July morning in 2010, Anthony Riccardulli shot his wife Linda several times, killing her, before turning the gun on himself as police stormed the family's Hyde Park home. He was pronounced dead a short time later at a local hospital. One of their children was present in the home at the time of the murder-suicide.

A crime and tragedy the likes of which most people would have trouble comprehending the full gravity of. Which is why it is no surprise that Linda's sister Jackie Axt has become a vocal advocate for changes she hopes will save lives and prevent anything like this from ever happening again. I can't say that I blame her. There is probably no greater feeling of grief and powerlessness as that which is experienced by the loved ones of a person who has been murdered.

Regrettably however, I do not agree with the ideas and changes proposed by her and her fellow advocates, who have begun a new domestic violence initiative in the mid-Hudson Valley region. Which leads me to make this direct, open rebuttal to a column written by Ms. Axt, advisory council member of the newly founded Tri-County Crisis Center. A complete copy of the original column can be found at this blog, a movement against domestic violence.

After a brief introduction she states...

“I'd like to set a few things straight. My sister, Linda Riccardulli, was not helped by Grace Smith House.”

The Grace Smith House is a shelter for battered women. They offer no services for male victims of domestic violence, but do provide shelter and services to women who claim to be fleeing a household where they have been the victim of domestic violence.

Sadly, the mere fact that this is an organization which caters to women alone actually encourages women of little means to falsely accuse men of violence toward them, in order to secure a safe, short-term place to stay rather than a standard homeless shelter or the streets. So right off the bat here, we see a serious financial factor in domestic violence and a motivation for women to lie about domestic violence.

But let's just be clear though, it is plainly obvious that Linda was certainly not making any false claims of domestic violence. She could not claim anything. She was brutally murdered by a husband who was quite obviously deranged. And as far as I'm concerned, murder certainly counts as domestic violence.

So let's cut to the chase here with my first question to Ms. Axt. Did Linda request help from Grace Smith House? What could GSH have offered her? Shelter is one of the primary services that GSH provides, but Linda had shelter. A nice house in the country. How was GSH supposed to know she needed help? What help could they have offered that she would have taken? A crummy converted motel room? I doubt she would have taken it, and I can hardly blame her really. GSH is the end of the line for woman who really have no place to go. Not a service that Linda could have benefited from or would have chosen to use I don't believe.

“She did not get directed to a Domestic Violence Court in Dutchess County.”

To my knowledge, there is no DV court in Dutchess County, no plans for such a court, and frankly, I don't see the need for one. When someone is the victim of an assault, that is a criminal matter. It makes no difference in the eyes of the law, nor should it, if the victim is a one-night stand, a lifelong spouse, a sibling, parent, etc. For other matters which can complicate domestic relationships, we have family courts, divorce courts, and civil courts.

Courts are not advocacy centers, nor should they be twisted to be, at substantial taxpayer expense. Ms. Axt, I don't mean to sound insensitive, but what makes victims of DV more “special” than the victims of any other crime?

Please don't misunderstand, I am not ignorant of the unique problems posed by a domestic assault as compared to, say, a random assault on the street by a total stranger. But those problems are not something that are going to be resolved by a new court system.

The idea sounds good at first look, but at second glance, all I see is another big ball of government red-tape, more tax dollars down the drain, and handing over more power to a government that neither you nor I seem to trust or have much faith in.

“She was not assigned a DV Divorce Lawyer who would have given her appropriate council.”

And who precisely should “assign” a divorce lawyer? I am sure Linda had a phonebook and knew how to use it. Or are you proposing that a woman who claims to be the victim of DV should get a “free” tax-payer subsidized divorce lawyer?

Does the man also get a court appointed divorce lawyer? After all, Anthony had not been convicted of any crime. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Anthony obviously turned out to be a killer. A man who, for whatever reason he may have thought he had, murdered his wife. But that is hardly the norm. Most men do not murder their wives, no matter what the problems are in a relationship or the stakes of a divorce.

More importantly, a man or woman in this country is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, with a right to be judged by a jury of peers, and a right to legal counsel. It could hardly be considered justice to deny one spouse access to a subsidized attorney, in favor of the other spouse, simply on the basis of an accusation. Or, for that matter, even based on a history of criminal conduct. If that conduct pertains to a divorce, that should be judged by the court, with both parties being afforded equal opportunity for legal representation.

If you were the victim of a robbery, should you be denied a lawyer to sue the perpetrator because you got arrested for shoplifting once when you were a kid? Should you be denied a lawyer because someone accused you of being a thief even though you had never been convicted of any crime?

At the end of the day, it is not my responsibility to pay for someone else's lawyer in a legal proceeding that decides who gets what in regards to property that is not mine and has nothing to do with me. As empathetic as I may be to folks who cannot afford a good divorce lawyer, it is hardly the responsibility of the taxpayer, regardless of the circumstances,, to manage the affairs of another citizen.

“She and her children were not protected by the "Order of Protection" that was given to them. Her estranged husband who was a danger to himself and others was released from jail and what she was given was 40 minutes notice that he was out. That was the "model" that did not save Linda's life last summer, the same model I keep reading about.”

For readers who are not familiar with this case, Anthony had been accused of a previous violent attack on his wife, a month or so before the morning of the murder. From what I gather, she was not severely injured in that altercation, but the alleged attack was said to be quite violent nonetheless, employing the use of household objects as weapons. It is not known what triggered the reported attack, or if there was a history of violence in the household. Regardless, he spent about a month in the county jail before a large bail was posted, and he was released pending trial, with an order of protection against him ordering that he was not to contact or be in the vicinity of his wife.

Orders of protection are not a magic shield. The only thing such an order ensures, is that if the person violates that order, they will face a separate, additional, felony charge if they violate it, on top of whatever other crime they may be accused of. So really, an order of protection is only a deterrent, just as all other laws are.

No order of protection, and no law will ever protect you from a person intent on doing harm or committing a crime. Sadly, when Anthony appeared at the house that morning with a handgun that was not registered to him, Linda and her daughter were unarmed. That was no accident either. Thanks to pressure and legislation by previous domestic-violence advocates, a judge had ordered that all the guns in the home be removed when Anthony was arrested. The one single tool that was left at Linda's disposal, to protect herself from an armed deranged man coming into her house to kill her, had been taken away by a judge in order to “protect” her.

So now we must really ask ourselves... Did Linda die because the government didn't do enough, or because they did too much?

Ms. Axt complains that her sister was only given 40 minutes notice, yet her killer did not appear at the door until days later. So what good would have 12, even 24 hours of notice have done? A pretty nice gesture on the part of the jail to notify her at all. Most crime victims are not notified when their attacker is released. Would you or I be in any less danger of, let's say, a thug coming to get revenge and silence us after they had robbed us at the store where we worked? Or if a stranger who had burglarized our house had been released on bail? In fact, 40 minutes is actually a pretty good amount of notice. Probably about as much notice as the jail themselves had. When someone comes to post bail for a detainee, they have to release that person as soon as the paperwork and processing is completed. It is not the job of the jail to hamper a release or to otherwise harass a suspect who might in fact be innocent of the charge against them.

That point is important to remember. Anthony had not been convicted of any crime. Nor was he found by any court or mental health professional to be a “danger to himself and others.” So what model do you propose here Ms. Axt? That any person, man or woman, who is accused of getting into a spat with their spouse be locked up for a year or more waiting for a trial in which they might be found to be innocent and of sound mind?

“I can not correlate the military level response to the woman who was being evicted from her home, to the lack of response that Linda encountered in Dutchess County when she brought her multiple OP violations to her lawyers, the DA and Police, and ultimately as she lay bleeding in her home on the night she lost her life.”

That is correct. You cannot correlate the two. Two entirely different incidents. The woman who was being evicted is an accused burglar who pointed a gun at police. I think they were awfully heavy-handed in their response in that matter though, calling in SWAT and tanks to disarm a little old lady armed with a BB gun, but maybe they over-reacted precisely because of the recent string of DV incident in our region.

Moreover, police were actually in the process of mobilizing such a response to save Linda when she was killed. Time ran out in her case, where the other incident dragged on for many hours.

As far as alleged orders of protection violations, I am only aware of one that was reported. When Anthony was released from jail, he reportedly placed a phone call telling Linda that he needed important financial documents. Papers that were necessary for him to get the money that paid for the house and the bills where she was still living with the kids while he was told to stay away and had to find some other place to stay. Allegedly he tried to arrange a meeting at the police station in order to receive those papers and some personal affects.

When Linda reported the call to police, the only evidence she had of the call was a caller ID phone number that came back to Anthony's mother's cellphone. Of course, common sense tells us that it probably was him that called, in violation of the court order, but you cannot prosecute someone in a court of law on “maybe.” You have to have some proof other than someone's mother's telephone number. According to newspaper reports, Linda herself refused to press charges in order to have him arrested for violating the order of protection.

Unless she was willing to make a sworn statement that she had gotten a call from her husband, in violation of the court order, the only thing that the police had as evidence was that a phone call had been placed from his mother's phone to Linda's That is no crime at all, nor a violation of the court order. It was up to her to press charges and swear in a statement that he had contacted her in violation of that court order.

As far as her bringing multiple OOP violations to her “lawyers,” I thought you said she didn't have a lawyer?

“I really cannot fathom the reluctance that the advocates I work with, Maria DiBari and Alyssa Kogon have encountered trying to offer solutions to the problems. Not far fetched solutions or unproven theories. These are solutions that have been proven effective in other places. Ideas that have been dismissed or ignored, and in some instances, many months later, are being touted as their own.

As previously mentioned, the press conference we held in September for "Linda's Laws" was not attended by anyone from any DV assistance group even though they were all invited.”

Again, I don't mean to sound cold ma'am. But you are hurting, and the people you have aligned yourself with are carrying on an axe-grinding agenda. If other DV groups are not standing beside you, there is a reason. And that reason is, your proposals are unreasonable.

On the other hand, I do believe in giving credit where credit is due. As much as I may oppose your ideas, the last thing I want to see is some bum politician or group of cronies taking credit for the things you have worked on. I am also not entirely thick-headed, and might be more amendable to some of our proposals if constructive dialogue could be achieved.

“The latest slap in the face was the Committee hearing on April 7th. You can see for yourself how the discussion of the GPS proposal was mentioned and tabled and the reaction from the Angela Friesland -R who seemed annoyed that it was even being brought up. I wrote a letter to the Legislature/Advisory Committee regarding my feelings from a victims point of view. (letter attached below)

I got three responses (Thank you!) out of 25 people in the Legislature. Most notably , I received no response from Leah Feldman who is the Project Coordinator of the Universal Response to Domestic Violence. The most resounding response I got was the Web Cast taken down the day after my letter was received by the Legislature. Only after complaints from the public, the Webcast was put back up and a letter from the Advisory Committee went out to appease those concerned and angered about the Legislature Meeting.”

I only saw bits and pieces of the hearing, so I cannot comment authoritatively with a solid opinion one way or the other on that. In general though, I have a healthy distrust of government and politicians, hence my reluctance to give them any more power than they have already usurped from our beloved Constitution. We all know though, that government is a lumbering oafish giant, and very little of substance ever happens at all, much less quickly.

On the other hand, those delays are for a reason too. That is the price we pay for democratic government. Your opinion, even as a victim, is not the only opinion to be acknowledged, and Linda's death is not the only fact to be considered.

Specifically to the point of GPS monitoring though. What criteria do you propose that would mandate someone be placed on electronic GPS monitoring? How would that have saved Linda?

On the one hand, I am inclined to say that GPS monitoring of an early-release felon might indeed be helpful in preventing and/or solving other crimes. But at what cost? At what cost financially to an already overtaxed citizenry? A people so overtaxed that it actually induces domestic violence.

And at what cost to liberty? Is anyone who is simply accused of a crime to be tracked and monitored like cattle? Are our public streets to become the new prisons littered with folks being electronically monitored? A very slippery slope there, that gives the government and the powers- that-be a motivating factor to accuse and convict any and all of us on some trumped up charge in order to track our every move. Rather Orwellian don't you think? It's bad enough that we already keep more people in prison than Communist China. The US has less than 5% of the world population but a full 25% of the world's total prison population, not including parole, probation and other monitoring already in place. Has that made us any safer?

I don't want to see domestic violence be exploited as yet another in a long line of “flavors of the day” to bring about even more oppression by an ever-more corrupt and broken government. And I certainly don't want to see DV laws that actually perpetuate more DV.

But let's cut back to the chase again. Would Linda have been saved by a multi-million dollar surveillance apparatus? Probably not. From what I understand, police got the call not long after he arrived at the home. An army of police were already outside when Linda was killed. So in that instance, we can see, that millions of dollars would have been spent and Linda would still be gone, all because she did not have a $300 shotgun in the house or strong enough locks on the doors. Now granted, a shotgun may not have saved her life, but it sure as hell is a better bet than a GPS system and a fistful of court orders.

“Stop using my sister as a political pawn. I am appalled that these groups keep invoking Linda's name when I know first hand that they did not help her before her death, nor have they supported or even acknowledged the family in the wake of her murder.”

I'm sorry, but that sounds rather egotistical. They are trying to push through some slow-moving legislation on behalf of your sister, but you are mad because they didn't make you the captain of the ship. Maybe we should all just stop trying to invoke boutique laws in the name of one person or another, and start applying the laws that are already on the books... along with some good common sense.


County Legislature,

I would like to thank those Legislators in Dutchess County that value saving the lives of domestic violence victims in the community and were willing to speak out, along with the unpaid advocates in the county.

However, I'm sorry that the value of saving lives for some is not as obvious as the value of a free ice machine."

If you want to hold a rally for Linda, then do it. A county legislature meeting is held to conduct business. Everything from considering proposed legislation to prosecute the most heinous criminals, to who is going to install a new ice machine in the county office building. Linda is not the county's only order of business. I get it, you are hurting, your sister did not deserve to die like that, but Ms. Axt, life goes on even after we have lost someone close to us.

“I am shocked and appalled by what occurred in the committee meeting on April 7th. it is unbelievable that the committee was so quick to table the GPS proposal with nothing more than a vague "We're looking into it" from the Advisory Committee Liaison. That Leah Feldman, the Project Coordinator for the Universal Response for Domestic Violence had nothing to say on the matter is baffling.”

What can she say? They are looking into it. You may think they should have just enacted every law you wanted at enormous taxpayer expense and without question, but you are not a dictator, you are not providing funding, or even an articulate plan on how to implement these measures.

“Furthermore, my family and I are offended by the callus comments made by Legislator Angela Flesland as though it was out of line to bring this proposal to the meeting. My sister, Linda Riccardulli, is dead, and other families in addition to my own have been destroyed by homicides related to DV since. The Committee is not working fast enough where domestic violence is concerned. The offenders were all out on bail. Victims go unprotected. The GPS would have saved lives, and as part of a solution deserves discussion, not distain. You must remember we are dealing with lives, not political agendas.”

I don't know what comments were made, but judging by the tone of your piece, and how you became continually more aggressive and frustrated I can see how certain officials may have become exasperated by your impatience and lack of understanding as to how the democratic process happens. Only in a dictatorship does an idea today become a law tomorrow.

Domestic violence is a scourge, granted, but it is not going to be solved by some hip-shot legislation.

And what difference does it make that the offenders were out on bail? You do understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty, do you not? You do understand the purpose of bail?

GPS would not have saved lives, but it would cost taxpayers a fortune in a vain attempt to protect people who choose not to protect themselves. Victims are unprotected thanks to previous DV legislation that take away from them the very best tools they could ever have to protect themselves. You want to feel safe? Get a dog. You want to be safe? Get a gun. If I feel threatened by someone, I would take a Smith&Wesson any day of the week and twice on Sundays over some enhanced bail criteria, a timely phone call from the jail, or a GPS tracking device being monitored by a sleeping fatass in front of a bank of TV monitors.

Your sister's death was a horrific tragedy, there is no disputing that. But nothing in the proposals I have seen would have prevented that tragedy. We must make our own choices, not expect society and government to wave some magic wand to make everything “better” for us. There will always be mistakes, failure, and tragedy. This is the price we pay for living in a free society.

“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” ~Thomas Jefferson


  1. It is funny how the all girls club demands massive liberty cut's for men when something like this happens, but when the shoe is on the other foot(like that woman from Nevada that murdered her estranged husband{he was filing for divorce because of DV and had a restraining order} well over 3 years ago and no arrest made yet) they go all out to protect the abuser/murderer.

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