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Abuse turned deadly: 6 local murder cases stem from domestic disputes

Accused murderers

There have been six local murder cases in the past month that investigators say happened between partners. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 2, 2011)

News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A 46-year-old woman is behind bars after allegedly killing her boyfriend with a high-heeled shoe. Officers arrested Thelma Carter Monday for the murder.

They say she and Robert Higdon had a fight Sunday night that turned physical at Augusta Mobile Home Estates on Milledgeville Road.

Sadly that incident is just the latest in a series of domestic violence situations that have turned deadly. There have been six local murder cases in the past month that investigators say happened between partners.

In nearly all of them, officers believe the signs of domestic violence have been there for years beforehand.

Counselors say even one murder at the hands of domestic violence is one too many.

SafeHomes in Augusta helps thousands of domestic abuse victims get help every year. In 2010 alone, it received 2,200 crisis calls and assisted more than 1,400 new victims.

"Domestic violence doesn't stop at 5 o'clock on Fridays. It can happen to anyone, man or female," said SafeHomes Director Aimee Hall.

Hall says an abuser can be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, behaving one way in front of friends and family but acting violently behind closed doors.

"If the abuse is persistent," Hall said, "Then, eventually there is going to be some type of explosion that can lead to death."

And investigators have seen exactly those types of deaths across our area recently.

On July 2, Aiken County officers say Kenneth Myers went on a killing spree, killing his wife, her family and a former girlfriend before eventually taking his own life. The victims were Angela Myers, Tabitha Brown, Vicki Brown and Esther Baldwin.

On July 13, Richmond County officers announced that Evelyn Walker Bell's death on Whitney Street in Augusta was officially ruled a homicide. They say Bell's boyfriend, Timothy Davis, strangled her to death in her home in June.

James Gray is behind bars in Aiken County for allegedly strangling his girlfriend, Helen McGee, to death in their front yard on July 25. McGee's young children were the only witnesses.

Two days later in Burke County, investigators say Amy Brown was shot and killed at the hands of her boyfriend, Jamie McCook. McCook and his father still claim the shooting was an accident. Both are behind bars.

Richmond County is investigating the death of Steve Mikel on Ramsey Street last weekend. They arrested Mikel's girlfriend, Judy Washington, for his murder.

Most recently, Thelma Carter was arrested Monday for allegedly killing her boyfriend, Robert Higdon, with a high-heeled shoe.

In almost each of these cases, friends, family and law enforcement tell News 12 signs of domestic problems existed before the murders.

And investigators aren't the only ones busy with domestic cases -- Hall's organization has seen an increase in calls this summer.

Case after case has a history of domestic abuse. Case after case eventually turned deadly.

"Chances are, any kind of domestic abuse situation that keeps on proceeding is going to end up violent," Hall said.

Hall said to look for signs that your friends or family members are being abused. The abuser may isolate or intimidate them and frequently use money, even their own children, as a way to coerce the victim.

"The abuser will go to every length to make sure they have the power over the victim," Hall said.

She said the best reaction to abuse is to leave the abuser. If leaving is not a safe option, call 911 before it's too late.

Abuse can become a deadly cycle. Hall said in some cases a man or woman is abused for years and finally can't take it any more and then end up becoming the murder suspect and their partner the victim.

Solicitor General Charles Evans says battered woman syndrome can be a mental defense in some cases, but it can be hard to prove a history of abuse if the victim never reported it or sought help from a support group like SafeHomes.

Evans said there are two attorney and three advocates who help with domestic violence cases. He says funding has been slashed statewide for domestic violence programs, which makes it challenging to form prevention and awareness programs.

The goal, Evans adds, is for the victim to get some sort of help before any abuse turns deadly.

Need help? You can call 1-800-799-SAFE, 1-800-33-HAVEN or (706) 736-2499. You can also visit the SafeHomes website at safehomesdv.org.


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