- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) — City prosecutors will start a pilot project designed to help win more convictions in felony domestic violence cases, which typically are the most difficult to prosecute, particularly when vulnerable victims change their stories.

Beginning next month, domestic violence cases in one of the busiest parts of the city for such offenses will be investigated by detectives instead of patrol officers. Crisis counselors will be on hand to offer immediate assistance to victims. And a victim’s statement will be preserved on video.

Prosecutors think such steps could prevent incidents such as one that occurred less than a year ago, when they were forced to suspend a domestic assault case against Dale Rodney Jones when the victim, the mother of his children, refused to cooperate.

Shenera Norris, 31, even appealed to the court in a letter: “Please let a loving father and a caring man free. He’s all I have.”

Prosecutors reluctantly suspended the assault case in May. On Feb. 15, Jones, 48, fatally stabbed Miss Norris, police said. A Baltimore police officer shot and killed Jones moments later after he confronted officers with a knife.

“If this project had been in place, we would have had a much better shot at keeping Shenera safe,” said Julie Drake, head of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office felony family violence unit. “Her boyfriend would have been in jail, and he wouldn’t have been in a position to kill her.”

Miss Norris and Lisa Holley in January were killed this year in what police characterize as domestic assaults. Police count at least 12 domestic killings among the city’s 282 homicides last year.

Often, the killings followed an escalating pattern of abuse that went unprosecuted.

Jacquelyn Campbell, a nursing professor at Johns Hopkins University and a domestic violence researcher, told the Baltimore Sun that many victims have a complex relationship with their abuser.

“All battered women want the violence to end, but may want to keep the relationship,” she said. “There are a lot of inherent conflicts.”

The domestic violence pilot project “is an experiment that we will be watching closely. We need to be able to see what the benefits are of putting the resources together,” said Sterling Clifford, a police spokesman.

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