Thursday, September 23, 2004

Domestic killings surge this year

Experts can't explain grim streak in Hamilton Co.

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

Lakessa Tait's father stood in court Wednesday, wanting to make sure his daughter was remembered as something more than a Cincinnati homicide statistic.

Tait was a 30-year-old mother of five who stuck with Fredrick Wills, he said, through repeated physical fights. They had two boys together, ages 1 and almost 3.

Beaten, shot, Amy Rezos lived for her boys
Hamilton County: The PROTECT Hotline, 872-9259

Northern Kentucky: Women's Crisis Center, 859-491-3335

Butler County: The YWCA Dove House, 863-7099

Warren County: Abuse and Rape Crisis Center, 695-1185

Wills, 38, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for shooting Tait four times in June as she left her job in Lower Price Hill.

The bullets made her the 37th homicide victim in the city this year and part of another troubling trend - a rise in domestic-violence killings in Hamilton County.

"She just thought he was Mr. Right," said Tait's father, Rudy Rousell. "Unfortunately, he was Mr. Wrong."

Eight women have been killed in Hamilton County so far this year in domestic situations, according to the Rape Crisis & Abuse Center of Hamilton County, formerly known as Women Helping Women. That number is double the four victims in 2003.

Ann MacDonald, the center's executive director, said she wishes she knew why the number has jumped. She remembers the annual total hovering around four or five in recent years.

"It's a disturbing trend. It's worrisome,'' she said. "I just wish I had some answers."

Kim Adams, new director of Northern Kentucky's Women's Crisis Center, is worried about the spike, as well.

"I'm not sure why that's happening," she said. "... It's a concern."

Attention has been focused on domestic violence since a Liberty Township woman, Amy Rezos, was shot in July allegedly by her husband - the second time, police say, he tried to kill her. She survived both attacks, but was critically injured in the second.

She and Christopher Rezos, now charged with attempted murder, were getting a divorce.

And Sept. 4, a history of domestic violence between Daniel Buie and his wife, Kimberly Buie, ended in homicide when he shot her to death as she drove in Sayler Park. Hours later, he ended up shot to death as well. Investigators say his death was unrelated to the death of his wife.

The U.S. Department of Justice says that between 1976 and 2000, 11 percent of all homicide victims were killed by intimates. Intimates are defined as spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends. The number of women killed by intimates declined from 1993 to 1995, then stayed relatively stable through 2000, the most recent numbers analyzed by the agency.

Generally, police say, domestic cases are easier to solve than other homicides - they have obvious suspects. But as Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher says, they're the most difficult to prevent because officers don't know when a family problem is going to erupt into homicidal violence.

MacDonald, too, struggles.

"Sometimes,'' she said, "I think: 'Is there any way we can get the word out more about the risk involved?' "

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Awareness groups will mark it with their annual candlelight vigil, during which they will read the names of women killed in domestic violence.

Tait will be on the list. Like many victims, she stayed with her abuser after repeated physical violence.

In November 2003, Wills was arrested and charged with choking her and slamming her to the ground during a fight police said was over child support. A grand jury did not indict him.

In April - just two months before she was killed - Tait said Wills grabbed her neck and bit her nose in a fight over his taking her car without permission. Wills wasn't arrested in that incident until Tait was dead. The charge was dismissed Wednesday.

Wills' attorney, Elizabeth Agar, urged Common Pleas Judge Fred Nelson to keep in mind that Wills voluntarily talked with police and admitted he killed Tait.

He wasn't just "toting a gun around," Agar said - he bought it specifically to shoot Tait.

Tait's parents, of Forest Park, are looking for a house in which to raise their daughter's five children. They now live in a two-bedroom apartment with the children and their own 16-year-old.

Rousell said he will always wonder if tough love would have kept his daughter alive. But as a parent, he said, you have to walk a fine line.

"She had two children with him," he said. "She thought that was going to change things."


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