Lethal Narrative

There’s a very good article by Tim Stelloh in today’s online edition of The New Republic. I don’t have time to comment on the article, but it’s a thoughtful and illuminating discussion of a successful Maryland program for risk assessment of domestic violence victims. The program was initiated based on research by professor of nursing Jacquelyn Campbell who has done ground-breaking work in this field.

Jo’Anna Bird arrived at her family’s two-story, wood-frame house at about 11 p.m. on a winter night three years ago. The house sits on a quiet street in one of the poorer corners of one of America’s richest counties: New Cassel, in Nassau, on Western Long Island. Bird, 24, was a mother of two who often wore her long brown hair in a ponytail. She had worked as a school bus monitor, a medical assistant, a Walmart cashier, a supervisor at BJ’s Wholesale Club, and she now hoped to be a corrections officer. She had come to stay with her mother and stepfather because the possessiveness of her ex-boyfriend—the father of her young son—had evolved into something much more frightening, and she did not want to be alone.

Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, known to most as “Pito,” waited for Bird that night behind a row of hedges in the front yard. After she parked, he appeared and said he wanted to talk. Bird refused, went into the house, and locked the front door. “We assumed he left. We all went to bed,” says Sharon Dorsett, Bird’s mother. “The next thing we heard was her screaming.” Valdez-Cruz had broken in through the basement and tried to smother Bird, who was lying on a couch in the living room watching television, Dorsett told me. When he dashed to the kitchen and grabbed a steak knife, Bird ran to her nephew’s room. Bird’s stepfather told Valdez-Cruz to leave, which he did. A short time later, Valdez-Cruz tried climbing in through a bedroom window, but Bird’s nephew threatened to stab the intruder with a fork. Next, Valdez-Cruz tried squeezing in the bathroom window, but he couldn’t fit, although his baseball cap toppled into the tub. Bird’s stepfather called the police.

The two officers arrived sometime after midnight. As the family crowded into the living room to explain what had happened, Valdez-Cruz returned to the house and casually knocked on the front door. One of the officers let him in. Bird had two protection orders against Valdez-Cruz, but the police did not arrest him. “They said, ‘Pito, get out of here, go take a walk somewhere,’” Dorsett says. It was a response that was by now familiar to Bird. “He’s going to kill me,” Dorsett recalls her daughter saying. “I’m going to die.”

A couple of months later, on the afternoon of March 19, 2009, Jo’Anna Bird’s body was in the back of a Nassau County Police ambulance. Her outstretched hand dangled off the side of a stretcher; her blood-streaked face tilted to the left. A gland ballooned from her neck, which had been sliced from ear to ear. As the investigator filming the area moved from the ambulance into Bird’s spartan two-bedroom apartment, the evidence of a brutal struggle and its aftermath was everywhere: a clump of hair in the front yard; pools of blood in the stairwell; a knocked-out screen in the window. Bird had been tortured and left bleeding to death inside her apartment. According to the autopsy, she had suffered blunt force trauma to the torso and head, and her trachea, esophagus, and jugular had been perforated.

Read the rest of the piece here, well worth the time.



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