Opinion: New trial for Blagg sheds light on domestic violence
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Survivors of domestic violence received a crushing blow when a convicted wife-killer was granted a new trial last week because of a misinterpretation of its definition.
At the hearing, during which Michael Blagg’s publicly-funded defense team argued for a new trial, abused women seemed more like defendants as they sat in the witness stand, forced to recall their most personal experiences while Blagg sat as still as a statue, staring into their eyes.
Blagg was convicted in 2004 of shooting his wife in the face and sending her body to rot in a landfill. Much of the evidence against him was suppressed at that time because its relationship to domestic violence was not understood.
Jurors for Blagg’s 2004 murder trial were asked, “Have you, a family member or close friend ever been involved in domestic violence?” Since no man ever hit her or any women she knew, and since neither she nor anyone she knew had been physically abused by a man, Marilyn Charlesworth of Grand Junction answered “no” to that question prior to being selected as a juror.
Nearly a decade later, Grand Junction City Council Member Rick Brainard was arrested for beating a woman badly enough to leave her face black and blue. This was clearly domestic violence and exactly the sort of situation Charlesworth considered when she answered her jury questionnaire.
Charlesworth then worked with dozens of abuse survivors to force Brainard’s resignation. It was an emotional experience for many as repressed memories surfaced and statistics were replaced with real faces. The fact that one in three women are survivors of gender violence (http://www.onebillionrising.org) hit home with devastating force.
Although she’d never been physically abused, Charlesworth realized she, too, was a survivor of domestic violence. When she stated this in a public request for Brainard’s resignation, the Blagg defense team called her a liar and pressed for a new trial.
Definitions of domestic violence have changed substantially over the years. For centuries, English common law accepted the “rule of thumb,” which allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick no bigger around than his thumb. Prior to Charlesworth’s divorce and even at the time of Blagg’s trial just a decade ago, domestic violence generally meant physical violence resulting in injury to a wife.
Domestic violence is now understood to include verbal threats and abuse, financial control, isolation, stalking, sexual perversions, pornography addiction, and rape. For the first time, men and same-sex partners are also protected by domestic violence laws.
In his June 11 decision to grant Blagg a new trial, Judge Bottger acknowledged that the jury questionnaire did not define domestic violence. In defining the term to explain his decision, Bottger used the dictionary definitions of domestic and violence rather than definitions used by domestic violence experts. When Charlesworth’s personal definition of domestic violence varied from Bottger’s, the judge concluded that Marilyn “has no credibility in the court’s eyes” and was “incapable of rendering a fair and impartial verdict in the matter [of Blagg].”
With interpretations of the term domestic violence varying so much, the question on the jury questionnaire is as subjective as asking someone if pizza or tacos taste better and then calling them a liar for offering an incorrect answer.
With that logic, Blagg has been granted a new trial. Hopefully the evidence demonstrating his true character won’t be suppressed this time. When he is convicted of murder a second time, there will be no room to doubt his guilt.
We can only hope that all the resources and money which continue to be poured into Blagg’s defense will finally provide some clue about his still missing daughter, Abby.
A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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