The terrible complexity of domestic violence created a wrenching scene this week in a Gila County Superior courtroom.
The judge, police officers and women from the Time Out Domestic Violence Shelter all sat in bemused, discouraged surprise as a victim of domestic violence pleaded with the judge to not send her man to prison.
Nonetheless, Judge Pro Tem Gary Scales sentenced Charles DeBurger to almost seven years in jail, mostly because of his long list of prior felony convictions — including three aggravated assaults, a robbery, two burglaries and two unlawful flights from three prison sentences. He also had a history of alcohol abuse — stemming no doubt from his own history of abuse as a child.
The case that landed him in prison grew out of an argument with his girlfriend and mother of his children that spun out of control. After a day of back-and-forth arguing, the woman took the teenage girl and an infant and fled. DeBurger gave chase, repeatedly bumping her car as the terrified teenager frantically called 911.
The incident had all the hallmarks of a classic domestic violence case, the great scourge of our society that afflicts an estimated one in three women at some point in their lives. Domestic violence does tremendous damage to those who suffer the blows — and the children who bear witness. Sometimes, the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children generation after generation — with people raised in a world of abuse and neglect and violence repeating those patterns with their own children.
Domestic violence and child abuse and neglect lie at the root of so many ills, including failure in school, crime, alcoholism, drug use and host of other disorders that ripple throughout society. We all pay an enormous price for ignoring this most common of violent crimes.
This most recent case illustrated that sad truth as well, as the presentencing report and the wrenching statements at the time of sentencing so tragically underscored. Both Mr. DeBurger and the woman he terrified and nearly ran off the road had their own family and personal histories, which came into play.
Given the desperation with which Mr. DeBurger’s victim pleaded for his release so that she could marry him — the judge probably saved her from worse abuse to come by sentencing him to prison. Unfortunately, the judge had few plausible alternatives, given the lack of resources to help people break out of the terrible patterns of abuse — often as intricate as the ties that bind alcoholics and their enablers.
If nothing else, the long sentence despite the sobs of the victim will demonstrate this society’s growing intolerance for this intimate violence — even if the victims seem inexplicably willing to tolerate abuse indefinitely.
Mr. DeBurger’s heartbroken victim said it was all her fault — she provoked him to violence by leaving.
But she’s wrong and we hope the sentence and the story will convince every man struggling against anger and fear and resentment of this one, simple truth. There’s no excuse. There’s no alibi. There’s no doubt. When you unleash that violence, you’ve broken the law, you’ve betrayed any love you claim to have, you’ve forfeited any claim to sympathy or understanding.
Ironically enough, Mr. DeBurger himself had it right. He said: “I am scared and weak. It is all my fault. I made the decision that I did. I should have got help years ago.”