The nightmare finally came true on Wednesday, when a rising tide of domestic violence cases climaxed in a shocking murder-suicide in the midst of a bitter divorce.
As other major crimes have declined in Payson, arrests for domestic violence have risen 138 percent since 2007.
Wednesday’s tragedy involving a disputed divorce and a victim who sought refuge with friends proved tragically typical of the roughly 1,500 murder-suicides that take place in the U.S. each year — the perpetrators almost always men and usually suffering from serious depression.
The typical murder-suicide involves access to a gun, a male partner some years older than the female, a breakup, suicidal ideation, drug abuse and a history of battering.
The murder of Marjeane Easley in the driveway of a friend’s home where she was staying during the divorce from her much older husband of 15 years fit the profile almost perfectly.
The first Payson murder in years also drove home the danger of the surging number of domestic violence cases in Rim Country, even as other major crimes fall.
“It was tragic — a very tragic case,” said Time Out Domestic Violence Shelter Director of Operations Linda Timmer.
The Rim Country’s only domestic violence shelter suffered a 30 percent budget cut this year as a result of state and federal grant cutbacks, leaving it straining to cope with rising demand. “That’s where shelters are so significant — they are behind locked gates and we can provide some sense of safety. We sometimes have perpetrators or someone come up to our gate — and the police are right on it. They’re here in seconds,” Timmer said.
Time Out Director Camille Levee said of Easley, “she was very much of the mind as I understand that she could handle it, which many women are. But when people are in those divorce negotiations — those are the times that can really get out of control. There has to be something that triggered her to want to do the divorce: So that’s the time to be doubly self-protective.”
Levee said about 1,800 people each year call Time Out’s hotline at 472-8007. She urged anyone coping with a potentially violent relationship to seek help. She also noted that the shelter can send out experts and counselors to talk to businesses about helping employees deal with domestic violence situations.
“There are ways to recognize if you have an employee in a domestic violence situation. We can come out and do some training to safeguard those other employees. What if he had walked into a Christmas party with a gun?”
Most women killed by their partners are actually trying to leave the relationship.
Domestic violence remains the leading cause of injury to women and affects an estimated one-third of women in their lifetimes. An estimated 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually, with a fresh assault of a woman partner in the U.S. every 9 seconds and three deaths a day.
That includes some 1,500 cases of murder-suicide annually — a pattern that accounts for about a third of the domestic violence deaths. About 90 percent of those murders involve a gun — as did Wednesday’s tragedy.
Payson has kept pace with the grim national statistics concerning domestic violence in the past several years.
Payson police in 2007 made 101 arrests in domestic violence cases. In the 2011, the number had risen to 240 arrests.
Domestic violence calls came in on 125 different addresses. But just nine addresses accounted for 21 percent of those calls. Police often file reports, but the Gila County Attorney’s Office can decline to prosecute cases — leading to repeat calls to one address.
Unfortunately, domestic violence cases have risen in Payson just as the region’s only domestic violence shelter has struggled to cope with huge budget cuts as a result in reductions in state and federal funding.
“We’ve been at capacity for months,” said Timmer, “and have actually had to move people around — trying to create more room and bring in rollaway beds. Thank goodness we haven’t had to turn people away.”
Despite the 30 percent reduction in funding, “we continued all of our services and have not closed beds. We are short-staffed, but continue our service.”
Cases of murder-suicide often make the news, including a recent case involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who murdered his 22-year-old girlfriend and mother of his 3-month-old daughter. The football player then drove to the stadium where he shot himself as two coaches pleaded with him not to do it. Belcher reportedly knelt, said “I got to go ... I can’t be here,” before making the sign of the cross and shooting himself in the head.