Domestic shooting homicides trigger changes in laws

Written By Gina Joseph, The Macomb Daily

He tried to kill her with a knife.

But she got away.

She ran and barricaded herself and her three children in a room upstairs, hoping the 911 call her son had made would bring help in time.

But he grabbed his shotgun and blew the door open, hitting both his wife and son.

He saw that she was still alive.

So, he dragged her into the hall and shot her five more times. Then he held the gun to his chin and in front of his children, pulled the trigger one last time.

That’s when Dave Herrington of Mount Clemens, a retired high school math teacher and former Mount Clemens City Commissioner, got a call from his granddaughter.

“She said, ‘Grandpa! You got to come quick, Daddy shot Logen and he shot Mommy many times,’” Herrington said, recalling the horrific night of Dec. 6, 2011.

By the time he and his wife, Mary Jane, arrived at the family’s home, everyone was gone but the police and stunned members of the rural Lapeer community where they lived.

Left for the Herringtons were the terrible realities of domestic violence. Their daughter, Lara Herrington-Stutz, a successful family law attorney, former U.S. Air Force officer and Sunday school teacher, was shot to death by her husband, Marcel Stutz, in front of their three children.

Herrington knew there were problems, which is why he made sure his grandson had his own cellphone. But his daughter always told him not to worry. “Everything would be OK,” she would say. “That was Lara,” Herrington said. She was optimistic and energetic by nature. “As a family law attorney, she helped a lot of women get out of bad situations.”

Yet, she never helped herself.

“At her funeral, women came up to me saying, ‘It was Lara who helped get me out of an abusive marriage,’” said Mary Jane Herrington, in an article by the Michigan Bar Journal. “They said, ‘that could have been me if she hadn’t gotten me out.’”

At times things got better but then the drinking and verbal abuse would return. At one point, police were called to the home and Marcel Stutz was arrested. He spent a weekend in jail and was ordered by the court to take anger management classes, attend Alcoholic Anonymous and relinquish his firearms. “He started the classes but eventually blew them off and since no one showed up to take his gun away, he kept it,” Herrington said.

The tragic shooting of Herrington-Stutz is among at least 15 domestic violence deaths across Macomb County involving firearms between 2006 and 2014, reported to local police agencies, according to an analysis of FBI data by The Associated Press. Those agencies include the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Chesterfield Township, Clinton Township, Eastpointe, Macomb Township, Roseville, Shelby Township, Sterling Heights and Warren.

Nationally, an average of 760 Americans were killed with guns annually by their spouses, ex-spouses and dating partners between 2006 and 2014, according to The Associated Press analysis.

In the past two years, stories of women like Herrington-Stutz and statistics showing hostile relationships often turn deadly when guns are present, has triggered a response. According to The Associated Press analysis, more than a dozen states have strengthened laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers in the last two years, a rare and growing area of consensus in the nation’s polarized debate over gun rights.

Under the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse crimes or subject to a domestic violence protective order can’t own a gun or buy guns. The law does not apply to dating partners, does not ban guns during temporary restraining orders and says nothing about how or when an abuser must surrender their firearms to authorities.

It is these legal loopholes that a broad coalition of advocates for domestic violence victims, law enforcement groups and gun control supporters hope to close.

Among the states making changes are South Carolina and Wisconsin, usually dominated by Republicans and with a strong tradition of gun ownership.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in 2014 requiring people subject to domestic abuse restraining orders to turn over their guns within 48 hours. The National Rifle Association has taken a cautious approach toward such bills, opposing the farthest-reaching measures but staying neutral or negotiating compromises on others. In this case, the NRA stayed neutral after negotiating language that allows individuals to seek the return of their weapons after restraining orders are lifted.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina recently signed a measure that includes a life ban on gun ownership for the most serious domestic violence offenders. “South Carolina is no longer thinking about the convenience of the abuser,” Haley said after signing the bill in June. “South Carolina is thinking about strengthening the survivor.”

Michigan is not among the states listed as strengthening its laws but that could soon change.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Congressman Robert Dold (R-Illinois) introduced the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abuse Act.

“It’s personal for me,” said Dingell, who is a domestic violence survivor.

“No woman and no child should ever live in fear of their life or their safety because of domestic violence. We should do everything we can to prevent families from experiencing senseless tragedies. This bipartisan, common sense bill will help ensure every woman and child is protected — and it will save lives.”

When Dingell was a young girl, about to start middle school, her father came close to shooting her mother.

“It was another of their many ugly fights,” she wrote in a Washington Post opinion column. “I got between them — literally — and tried to grab the gun. I will never forget that night: The shouting, the fear, the raw terror that we would all die, my brothers and sisters along with my parents. We survived that occasion, physically. Emotionally, I am not so sure. My baby sister, Grace, was supposed to start first grade the next day. I walked her to school because I believed in trying to be normal, to keep everything together. She died several years ago, after suffering all of her life from demons that haunted her. I cannot help but think that night was the source of many of them.”

That’s what pushes Dingell to push for change.

“If I can help someone else not go through what I went through, then I have a moral responsibility to do so,” she said.

Among the supporters of the legislation is Suzanne Coats, CEO of Turning Point, one of four domestic violence and sexual assault service agencies in the tri-county area.

“This legislation will address key loopholes such as allowing for the seizure of firearms when temporary protection orders are issued, and expanding the definition of ‘intimate partner’ to include dating partners and convicted stalkers,” Coats said. “Many are under the false belief that just leaving a domestic violence situation ends the violence. Many women are stalked and harassed long after they leave and some are killed. Many are forced to see their abuser during custody exchanges.”

Critics who argue against gun restrictions believe that if an abuser is determined to hurt someone, he or she will just find another way. The chances of escaping are greater when no firearm is present.

“If you’re in a domestic violence situation and there’s access to firearms it increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent,” Coats said.

The data used by The Associated Press is a summary from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports for 2006-2014. The SHR includes data from law enforcement agencies in 49 states and Washington, D.C. Florida does not report its data to the FBI. The report includes more than 122,000 homicides over the nine-year period.