Expanding Justifiable Homicide for abused people (mostly women)

I am prompted to this because of watching “Every F__king Day of My Life”, a documentary about Wendy Moldonado, an Oregon woman who was beaten and tortured, physically and emotionally, for twenty years. She had four sons, who were also abused by her husband/their father.

He was sick and told her that he fantasized about being a serial killer who would kidnap and torture people to death. He didn’t work, and didn’t let her work and watched her every minute of the day. He told her if she ever left, he would murder her family and everyone she loved.

In 2005, she smashed his head in with a hammer and her oldest son added a few blows with a hatchet.

She called the police, turned herself in, and made no attempt whatsoever to flee, to avoid, to blame. The act was spontaneous, and apparently not during a moment of a direct threat.

Even though everyone told her she would never be convicted, she explains in the film, on the day of her going to prison, that nothing good ever happened, and she couldn’t trust the system to protect her oldest son. So she accepted a plea deal that meant she would go to prison for 10 years - with NO possibility of early release - to guarantee that her son would not go to prison for 25 years. (He is going to do 6 years)

The film follows her and her family and friends during the last 4 days before she goes to prison. (Her son was already in, because he was considered a flight risk.) Her attitude is: I saved my sons. Ten years of prison is heaven compared to ten more years of my husband.

Her son’s attitude: I’ve done what I existed to do: help save my brothers and my mother. It doesn’t matter what happens now, I’m ok with it.

The judge was very sympathetic, and stated that he absolutely knew that she was telling the truth about her life (tons of supporting evidence - no question her life was as she described it.) but said the system doesn’t allow her to do that. the judge also said something about it being plain that neither she or her son were “criminals” who endangered society in any way. He even suggested that the concept of justifiable homicide should be expanded.

A friend of Wendy’s says at one point in the film that it’s ok to shoot a hostage taker who threatens and intimidates people for an hour or day, but it’s not ok to kill someone who is held hostage by physical torture, threats, abuse and intimidation 24/7 in a family situation and that’s crazy.

I agree.

I also understand that there will always be people who will try to game the system…kill hubby for the insurance money and claim he was abusive. But I’m a hardcore believer that it’s better to let the guilty go free than to imprison the innocent, and for every person who gets away with a justifiable homicide defense that is unwarranted, there would be hundreds of (mostly women) and CHILDREN whose lives would be saved.

Oddly enough, the only person I know who is trapped in an inescapable hellhole of abuse is a man… and those of us who know him have often talked about the fact that the only REAL way he could escape would be through the death of the woman involved.

So the debate is: should we change justifiable homicide laws to explicitly include the killing of severely abusive spouses?

(I’m also a little hazy on how all this works to begin with… I guess, from what the judge said, that usually when someone is acquitted in a situation like this it’s not justifiable homicide but self-defense? I believe I’ve usually heard about it being an issue whether or not the person (usually a woman) was being directly threatened at the moment the killing took place, that this is required in order plead self-defense. Is this correct?)

the title of the film refers to what Wendy said to the 911 operator when the operator asked her if her husband had been threatening to hurt her.

Moved from GQ to GD.

samclem . Moderator. General Questions

You generally can’t use deadly force unless there is an imminent threat of seriously bodily harm or death to self or another. That’s as it should be.

There are other possible defenses available–temporary insanity comes to mind, but it’s going to depend on the circumstances.

There’s also always a chance of juror nullification, though I don’t condone it.

I kind of like deadly force laws to be written in such a manner that it is only acceptable to use it when one reasonably believes they or a third party is faced with an immediate risk to life or limb. Anything else is going to have to be an affirmative defense but it doesn’t look like Moldonado made an attempt she just plead out. I’m not quite sure how the law should be changed to address these kinds of issues.

No. I’m not OK with the idea of “justifiable” homicide anyway, but I’d be against extending it in a case like this anyway.

Question: Did this woman ever contact the authorities re: her husband’s abuse? Did any of her friends or family?

More likely, there will be hundreds (mostly men) who will be killed by spouses who can more easily get away with it.

Frankly it’s already a lot too easy for women to play the abuse card as it is, IMHO. (The minister’s wife who got away with a slap on the wrist despite no actual evidence of abuse being one example that comes to mind.)

Not odd at all. Society is a lot more protective of women, and divorce laws (particularly where there are children and/or long term marriages) heavily skew in favor of women.

I don’t think so. I think that people who have been abused for a long time wouldn’t suddenly kill their abusers the moment an expanded justifiable homicide law goes into effect. I think that if they’ve been beaten down for so long, they would still rationalize their decision to remain in the relationship. Not all abused people are able to turn into J-Lo in Enough when things get desperate.


I will never know what it’s like to be someone who has been so severely abused that they would be driven to the point of a Wendy Moldonado.

The legal system is supposed to protect people in these situations.

Given the fact that her husband would never let her leave the home and promised death to her and her family if she left, it makes complete sense why she couldn’t go to the cops to report domestic abuse, etc.

But I believe this case is unique. In most situations where there is severe abuse, there are windows where the authorities could be contacted and I imagine the authorities could assure the safety of the abused and his/her family. If the authorities can’t assure the safety of the abused and his/her family then actions need to take place to fix this.

We can’t just allow people to kill people unless they are in imminent danger.

-R. Incognito

As horrible as this case is, changing the law wholesale to expand defenses against murder is a bad idea. What happened to WEndy Maldonodo and her sons is horrible beyond description, but it’s crazy to make law based on unusual cases. The law must serve all of society as best it can, not the outliers.

The solution in rare cases like this is, I believe, a compassionate and honest justice administration. If the case is in fact as horrible and as clear cut as the OP describes, I don’t see why the DA had to push it as hard as they did. Unfortunately, a system that rewards district attorneys for getting lots of convictions and long prison sentences, as opposed to assisting the social welfare and justice, isn’t going to be conducive to such things. I can’t imagine why they had to give the woman ten years, but I think the compassion has to reside in the application of law, not the legislation.

I don’t know how to write the law so it won’t be abused, although I grant that your scenario exists.

(FYI, there’s a challenge in China where this scenario happens. Abusive Dad, Mom finally kills him, and there are kids where the extended family then disowns. The kids are basically left to fend for themselves where the family doesn’t come forward. It’s a fucked up situation and the kids generally end up on the streets. :frowning: )

Well, first, do you support the death penalty for spousal abuse? IE, if instead of murdering her husband, she simply turned in in to the police. Should a judge have sentenced him to death?

Personally, I don’t like the idea of vigilante justice, because the conviction and sentence are passed down irrevocably by one party in the heat of the moment.

Actually, I believe he’s talking about the likelyhood that women who aren’t being abused will kill their husbands. A rational enough fear, since the system is already skewed to favor abusive women.

Why didn’t she wait until she was being beaten/abused/threatened to kill him, which apparently happened every fucking day of her life? Then it would be self defense. And if she would have done this 15 years earlier, both her and her kids would be free by now. Why did she wait so long?

I don’t know. I certainly don’t blame her, but I have a problem with the government condoning things like this. It’s like the death penalty and vigilantism. I can perfectly agree with killing someone for their crimes but I don’t want the government to do it. I can agree with people taking the law into their own hands on occasion but I don’t think it should be allowed or encouraged.

But I don’t believe that the law and morality should line up, so I have no problem with perfectly moral actions being illegal. The law should be about minimizing harm to others, and expanding it in this case would likely cause more harm than it prevents.

There is an aphorism that I’ve seen before on the Dope that goes something like, ‘Interesting cases make for bad law.’

I’m with the other posters who have spoken up to say that the potential for abuse of such a change in the law is much greater than the expected good that I can see for the same law. If there was a failure in the justice system in this case, which I agree there seems to have been, it’s with the prosecutor who failed to use his/her discretion to drop or reduce the charges.

Where the law might reasonably be changed would be by making it easier to, in the case of accused chronic abusers, place the suspect in custody without bail while the evidence is examined. And even that could be abused, but it’s a Hell of a lot less permanent a condition than the results of encouraging vigilantism.


And in addition, the definition of abuse tends to get very stretched these days (when it involves wives) covering all sorts of things that wouldn’t count as “abuse” (or at least criminal abuse) if the “victim” was friends or coworkers, and certainly husbands. Things like “withholding affection” etc. qualify women for draconian restraining orders against their spouses.

I don’t know if there are any marriages in the world that have no friction at all, and if “he was mean to me” is a license to kill, it’s virtually open season.

I’m a little curious: the oldest son is obviously old enough to do jail time. Was he also confined to the house? Surely it would have been possible for one of the kids to smuggle a note to their teacher, calling the police?

I’m reminded of the song in CHICAGO, the women on murderer’s row who have murdered their spouses for cheating, for accusing them of cheating, for popping gum, etc. “It was a murder but not a crime.” ::: shudder :::

I am not familiar with this case (except for what is written in the OP) but I think jury nullification is exactly what you want here.

I know legal eagle types seem to hate the notion but personally I am fine with it. So, I would say to the OP do not expand justifiable homicide (as I think it is too easily abused) but rather inform juries of their nullification power.

A law (whatever law) is almost impossible to be written to cover every nuance that can happen in life. In this case a jury should have been able to look at the totality of circumstances here and, if they chose, decide this woman and her son are not criminals and justice is not served by putting them in jail.

The son was 16. Per the NYT review, other family members would have faced retribution.

It’s ironic that restraining orders have the greatest impact when used against people who are not really criminals (& are thus fearful of violating the order). If you have someone who really is a murdering bastard, it doesn’t nessecarily accomplish much and are risky in the short term.

That’s certainly true in a lot of cases, but this one seems legit.

Which is why I was suggesting that custody without bond might be a reasonable assumption in claims of abuse, at least until something like a Grand Jury can look at the evidence for abuse.