Friday, February 15, 2008

War Torn When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly

why do they die?

Published: February 15, 2008
A few months after Sgt. William Edwards and his wife, Sgt. Erin Edwards, returned to a Texas Army base from separate missions in Iraq, he assaulted her mercilessly. He struck her, choked her, dragged her over a fence and slammed her into the sidewalk.

Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
A VETERAN’S GRAVE Erin Edwards, who was fatally shot by her husband in 2004, was buried in Clearfield, Pa. More Photos »

Slide Show
War Torn: Violence at Home
Interactive Graphic
The Cases
Audio Interview: Dr. Jonathan Shay on Returning Veterans and Combat Trauma (January 13, 2008)
War Torn: In More Cases, Combat Trauma Is Taking the Stand (January 27, 2008)
War Torn: An Iraq Veteran’s Descent; a Prosecutor’s Choice (January 20, 2008)
War Torn: Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles (January 13, 2008)
Blogrunner: Reactions From Around the WebAs far as Erin Edwards was concerned, that would be the last time he beat her.

Unlike many military wives, she knew how to work the system to protect herself. She was an insider, even more so than her husband, since she served as an aide to a brigadier general at Fort Hood.

With the general’s help, she quickly arranged for a future transfer to a base in New York. She pressed charges against her husband and secured an order of protection. She sent her two children to stay with her mother. And she received assurance from her husband’s commanders that he would be barred from leaving the base unless accompanied by an officer.

Yet on the morning of July 22, 2004, William Edwards easily slipped off base, skipping his anger-management class, and drove to his wife’s house in the Texas town of Killeen. He waited for her to step outside and then, after a struggle, shot her point-blank in the head before turning the gun on himself.

During an investigation, Army officers told the local police that they did not realize Erin Edwards had been afraid of her husband. And they acknowledged that despite his restrictions, William Edwards had not been escorted off base “on every occasion,” according to a police report.

That admission troubled the detective handling the case.

“I believe that had he been confined to base and had that confinement been monitored,” said Detective Sharon L. Brank of the local police, “she would not be dead at his hands.”

The killing of Erin Edwards directly echoed an earlier murder of a military wife that drew far more attention. Almost 10 years ago, at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, a different Army sergeant defied a similar restriction to base, driving out the front gate on his way to a murder almost foretold.

That 1998 homicide, one of several featured in a “60 Minutes” exposé on domestic violence in the military, galvanized a public outcry, Congressional demands for action and the Pentagon’s pledge to do everything possible to prevent such violence from claiming more lives.

Yet just as the Defense Department undertook substantial changes, guided by a Congressionally chartered task force on domestic violence that decried a system more adept at protecting offenders than victims, the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq began.

Pentagon officials say that wartime has not derailed their efforts to make substantive improvements in the way that the military tackles domestic violence.

They say they have, for example, offered more parenting and couples classes, provided additional victims advocates and afforded victims greater confidentiality in reporting abuses.

But interviews with members of the task force, as well as an examination of cases of fatal domestic violence and child abuse, indicate that wartime pressures on military families and on the military itself have complicated the Pentagon’s efforts.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Peter C. McDonald, a retired district court judge in Kentucky and a member of the Pentagon’s now disbanded domestic violence task force. “The war could only make things much worse than even before, and here we had a system that was not too good to begin with.”

Connie Sponsler-Garcia, another task force member, who now works on domestic violence projects with the Pentagon, agreed.

“Whereas something was a high priority before, now it’s: ‘Oh, dear, we have a war. Well get back to you in a few months,’ ” she said.

The fatalities examined by The New York Times show a military system that tries and sometimes fails to balance the demands of fighting a war with those of eradicating domestic violence.

According to interviews with law enforcement officials and court documents, the military has sent to war service members who had been charged with and even convicted of domestic violence crimes.

Deploying such convicted service members to a war zone violates military regulations and, in some cases, federal law.

Take the case of Sgt. Jared Terrasas. The first time that he was deployed to Iraq, his prosecution for domestic violence was delayed. Then, after pleading guilty, he was pulled out of a 16-week batterers intervention program run by the Marine Corps and sent to Iraq again.

Several months after Sergeant Terrasas returned home, his 7-month-old son died of a brain injury, and the marine was charged with his murder.

1 2 3 4 5 6 Next Page

please go read the entire article

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: