Police to get New Tools to Determine Domestic Violence Danger

By Allison Manning
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

In presence and personality, Leslie Manner was a giant.

The 39-year-old woman traveled the world, making frequent trips to Morocco as an advocate for women’s rights.

She didn’t suffer fools, gently correcting someone she felt was out of line. And at 6 feet tall, she looked like a woman who could hold her own.

“She lived at least three lifetimes in 39 years,” said her mother, Lynn Manner.

Who she was makes how she died seem that much more shocking. Leslie Manner called police at 1:21 a.m. on April 15, telling a dispatcher that her boyfriend, Jerry DeLong, was drunk and throwing trash around their University District apartment.

“I don’t really feel safe in the house with him,” she said.

Police arrived and spoke with each of them separately. DeLong, 27, agreed to leave.

Within an hour, he was back, and Leslie Manner was dead. DeLong stabbed her and then used the knife to try to kill himself. He said he had blacked out and didn’t remember what happened.

In September, he pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years.

“Here I would worry about her going alone to Morocco … and where does she get killed?” Lynn Manner said. “In her own home in Columbus.”

Leslie Manner’s death was one of 12 slayings linked to domestic violence in Columbus in 2013, a year that saw a total of 92 homicides in the city. A 13th domestic-violence homicide occurred in Hilliard.

In half of the domestic-violence killings, police believe that a boyfriend or husband killed his girlfriend or wife. Police say that the others involved children killing parents, boyfriends killing girlfriends’ babies, and two men killing their grandmothers. One father killed his son in what police say was a case of self-defense.

DeLong and three other men attempted to take their own lives after killing another. Two were successful.

Domestic-violence homicides can be the easiest to solve but the most difficult for families to absorb, police and prosecutors say.

In all of the 2013 cases, “we know who the suspect is,” Columbus homicide detective Ron Custer said. “We know who caused the death.”

More difficult is helping the survivors.

“It’s really hard sometimes to give answers to the families,” Custer said.

Family members often have had long relationships with both victim and suspect.

Some survivors might be more forgiving of the perpetrators than others, said Jane McKenzie, the director of the victim/witness assistance unit in the Franklin County prosecutor’s office.
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“Though they did a horrible thing, you still have the years of an established relationship, and there was love and respect.”

That’s especially difficult when the violence is perpetrated by a child on a parent.

“This is someone they gave birth to, and you can’t turn off your feelings and instincts with that person,” she said.

McKenzie said she has seen people on both sides of the courtroom embrace at the end of a trial.

“It’s a gut-wrenching display of love and sorrow,” she said.

In any homicide in which domestic violence is suspected, the first thing Anne Murray does is look up the names to see if her office had contact with the victim or suspect.

Murray is the director of the domestic-violence/stalking unit in Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer’s office. Her unit handles nearly 6,000 cases each year.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “When you do this work, you read the paper and listen to the news every day to see if it’s one of your clients, and you pray it’s not.”

Murray, who has been prosecuting domestic-violence cases for 18 years, said the abuse seems to be getting worse.

“We’re seeing very violent things, much worse than when I began my career,” she said. “So it does seem like something’s up, and we don’t know what it is.”

From the time a domestic-violence victim picks up the phone to call for help to the arrival of police, lots of things can happen.

The victim — usually a woman — can begin to doubt herself and start to downplay what happened. The abuser might try to make nice after an explosion of violence. When officers arrive, the incident might not seem as big a deal as it did minutes before.

Officers are left to decide what the real story might be. Soon, they’ll have another tool to help.

Columbus police officers and Franklin County deputies will be trained over the next year to use a “lethality assessment,” a screening tool to help determine the danger to a domestic-abuse victim.

They will ask the victim a series of questions and, if appropriate, point out that he or she is in danger and that other people have been killed in similar situations. The officers will immediately reach out for help, instead of leaving it to the victim.

“They’re calling the (domestic-violence) hot line with the victim, as opposed to giving the phone number and leaving the scene,” said Sue Villilo, interim executive director of CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, which offers shelter and other services.

When Maryland instituted a lethality-assessment program, officials found that only 4 percent of domestic-violence homicide victims had ever availed themselves of any services or help. In half of the homicides, officers had previously been called to the scene, just as in Leslie Manner’s case.

“That’s what makes me so crazy,” Lynn Manner said. “For someone that fearless to call the cops and say, ‘My boyfriend came home drunk and he’s throwing trash around the bedroom and I am afraid to be alone with him’ — for Leslie to admit that she was afraid is monumental.”

Karen Days, the president of the Center for Family Safety and Healing, thinks it might be time to resurrect the domestic-violence death review after more than a decade’s absence.

Officials from throughout the county examined deaths linked to domestic violence. The purpose wasn’t to assign blame but to evaluate assistance options to see if something needed to change.

The group found that more than half of homicide victims who were women were killed in a domestic-violence incident. “Lethality indicators” included a lack of identification as a domestic-violence victim and a change in the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, such as a divorce or a breakup.

“The most dangerous time for a victim to become a homicide victim is when they’re trying to leave the situation,” Days said.

Her organization plans to launch a campaign to educate bystanders — to encourage them to “risk being right” and reach out to possible victims.

“We need to give everyone in our community … the permission to intervene safely,” she said. “A murder doesn’t happen without there having been some warning.”

Leslie Manner’s family members said she saw DeLong as a flawed man she wanted to fix. They saw him as paranoid and jealous. The pair seldom went out socially, and he invented scenarios in which men would hit on her if she went out alone.

In retrospect, such signs look like red flags. But Leslie was private, they said, so she wouldn’t have told them if she was afraid or being abused.

Her family is closing the chapter on DeLong and focusing instead on remembering Leslie, said her younger brother, John Manner.

DeLong “has no influence on the world,” John Manner said. “He has no influence on anyone else. This was the most impactful thing he’d ever done.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call CHOICES’ 24-hour hot line at 614-224-4663.

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