BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME/THE SELF-DEFENSE THEORY IN HOMICIDE
On April 3, 1990 the tranquility in Cape Neddick, Maine was shattered as fifteen shots rang out from the ocean front estate of Jack and Jacqueline Bevins shortly after 11:00 a.m. A naked Jack Bevins lay dying in a pool of his own blood on their bathroom floor. Those shots reverberated throughout the neighboring community of Ogunquit where Jackie, a very successful restauranteur, owned and operated Jackie’s Too on Perkins Cove. She was charged with murder and retained Daniel G. Lilley, a renowned criminal defense lawyer to represent her as she sat in the York County Jail. That is where I, a private investigator hired by defense counsel, met her a few days later. Her first words still haunt me to this day, some eight years after they were uttered, “You look just like Jack.” It turned out to be a compliment but I would not view it as such until many months later.
During the course of my investigation, I collaborated with Mary A. Davis, Attorney-at-Law, Robin Macdonald, paralegal, and a team of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists assembled by Mr. Lilley. The reports of my interviews with numerous witnesses were reviewed by the psychological team and, coupled with the approximately eighteen hours which they spent with our client, formed the basis of the Battered Woman Syndrome diagnosis, an important element of our defense. I spent eighteen months investigating the charge of murder and assisting counsel in the preparation for trial. Maine, with a population of approximately one million, enjoys the fourth lowest homicide rate in the country, behind Iowa, North Dakota, and New Hampshire. We average only thirty homicides a year. The defense team came to believe that the instant case, a shooting death which the Attorney General chose to characterize as murder, actually was in self defense. We had only to convince a jury.
Ogunquit is an idyllic coastal community situated in the southeast corner of Maine in historic York County. One of the oldest courthouses in the state became the venue for the trial of the State of Maine v. Jacqueline Bevins in nearby Alfred. The population of Ogunquit swells from a thousand during the winter months to between thirty and forty thousand during the summer. The village is world famous for Perkins Cove, framed by towering cliffs with a picturesque, wooden walkway from one side to the other. Tourists flock here for the seafood caught locally by the fleet moored below and served in the restaurants, including the one in which much of the drama in this case was played out. North of the cove a white sand beach stretches for miles toward Portland, the largest city in Maine. South of the cove are more sheer cliffs and beach extending to New Hampshire and eventually Boston, Massachusetts, where this story actually begins.
Jack Bevins was a wise guy, a minor player in the Raymond Patriarca crime family which is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island. It controls organized crime in New England and its tentacles reached into Massachusetts and Maine. Jack was born and raised in Massachusetts. He began his life of crime by running numbers and them making book. Eventually he graduated to drug dealing and arson for profit while running a garage in Newton. He met and married Jackie Garmalo, formerly a homecoming queen from Keene, New Hampshire, during the Newton years. Both had been married previously and those unions had produced a son for each, although they had no child as a result of their union. Doug Bevins was Jack’s natural son and Peter, Jackie’s, whom Jack had adopted upon their marriage. It was during these early years that Jack had moved the family to Maine, entered the trucking business, and expanded his criminal activity which ultimately led to laundering money in the Cayman Islands, his pastime at the time of his death.
In order to have the jury understand what happened that spring morning after 23 years of marriage, I was asked to reconstruct those years. Jack Bevins was a heavy drinker and womanizer. The state’s theory in the case was that Jackie had shot Jack because he was planning to bring a new girlfriend to Ogunquit for the summer. That theory was not supported by the evidence which our investigation developed. Jackie was a hard worker, probably a workaholic. She worked in restaurants before starting a small one of her own when they first moved to Maine. She had three restaurants, the last of which, Jackie’s Too, she was running at the time of the shooting. By all accounts she rose early and worked late, becoming friendly with the lobstermen whose boats were moored in the cove which her restaurant overlooked. She also had become friendly with local law enforcement officers and the townspeople who would investigate and sit in judgment of her.
A rather interesting quirk of fate was the fact that the local police chief had given Jackie the .32 caliber Harrington and Richardson model 732 which had been identified as the murder weapon. As her restaurants had become more successful she was known to carry large amounts of cash at the time of closing. There was an attempted robbery and the chief had become concerned for her safety. He had reached into his desk and withdrawn the weapon in question which had been confiscated from some malfeasant. She had accepted it, not knowing how to use it. She had taken lessons from one of the lobstermen whose daughter worked as a waitress at the restaurant. Although never proficient, she had learned enough to protect herself when Jack had charged her, also going for the gun on that fateful morning.
The dynamics of the relationship between Jack and Jackie spoke volumes about what precipitated the shooting. Jack, because of his ties to organized crime, frequently was absent, especially during the latter years of their marriage. He was an absentee husband to Jackie and absentee father to Doug and Peter. The boys were quite close to Jackie, rarely seeing their father except for an occasional weekend or extended stays during the summer months when he would return from the islands. He was tanned always, wore a lot of gold jewelry, spent time in the company of Guido “Billy” Candelmo and other wise guys who summered in Ogunquit on the lam from Providence or Boston. Jack like to party, playing the gracious host to the gang and a bevy of attractive followers. He fashioned himself a Don Juan and frequently propositioned the wait staff at Jackie’s Too. In fact, he had a long affair with Suzanne Jackson, a bartender there who actually testified on Jackie’s behalf at trial.
The more compelling pattern of behavior was developed earlier in the marriage. Jack played and Jackie worked. Jack drank and when he did, he was not an ideal mate. In the early stages of their relationship, in the 70s, from information which we obtained through Jackie and her diaries, we learned that Jack began his abuse of her. He became the dominant party and his role in that regard never changed. Jackie is a strong personality. She ran the restaurants almost single-handedly earning the money while Jack limited his involvement to counting and spending it. He still managed to establish himself as the dominant party between the two “and not as boss necessarily, or head of the household, but rather as dictator of the family.” 1
Early diary entries revealed that Jack often ordered Jackie to her room after striking or verbally demeaning her. She had responded by complying with his demands. That had been only the beginning of the pattern of dominance. The additional evidence of that pattern and the culmination of it in his shooting death were very convincing. In fact, many of the women on the jury, after listening to testimony regarding the escalating abuse, returned to the jury room and broke into tears. The description of it had been so graphic that they barely had been able to contain themselves in the court room according to the jury officers. Of course we did not learn of this until after the verdict had been rendered.
Jackie was diagnosed as suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) by the psychiatrist and psychologist hired by the defense during our efforts to understand the events which had led to the shooting. BWS, as it is known, was the framework within which the theory of self-defense evolved in this case. Counsel, in attempting to understand what had caused our client to defend herself, immersed themselves in the study of BWS in order to explain our client’s behavior to the jury. Counsel wanted the jurors to understand that at the time at which she had pulled the trigger, and pulled it several times having had to reload twice, that she was at the height of her victimization as a battered woman. We were told that the number of shots was not inconsistent with the release of anger which accompanies such a reaction in self-defense. Indeed, had she been defending herself with any other weapon, such as a knife or blunt object, multiple blows beyond the number which might ordinarily be required to repel an assailant, is not an unusual result.
Another anomaly of the syndrome is that the battered victim typically does not flee the relationship. They do not because the pattern of being struck or verbally demeaned by the dominant party erodes their self-esteem. It becomes more difficult to be assertive and the pattern becomes more deeply ingrained in the relationship. The release which occurs in the act of self-defense finally vents the pent up emotions and fury forged by years, and in this case, decades of abuse. The power and control of the dominant spouse which are at
1MAINE SUNDAY TELGRAM. Robert Gavin, October 27, 1991.
The center of the syndrome are so enslaving that the victim often becomes a shadow of their former self. Spinning from the fabric of power and control is violence, both physical and sexual, including the use of intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing and denying blame, using the children as pawns in the relationship, using the male privilege, economic abuse, coercion and threats. All of this and more was present in the miasma which was the Bevins marriage. 2
Jackie had put on a good front during the marital years. It is the nature of the battered victim to try to hide the fact of the abuse from others, but not always successfully. Those witnesses who had observed the abuse which she had suffered at his hands, had remembered to some extent and were interviewed. Interestingly, their sons actually testified to instances of abuse; Doug, that his father had thrown a toaster at his step-mother’s head and Peter, that on another occasion, his step-father had come after his mother with a log from the fireplace and then a poker. Beyond family members and close friends who arguably could be biased, the challenge to the investigator is how to document facts which the client has tried to hide from others. An element of the syndrome itself, the fact that the client is ashamed of the abuse and feels responsible for it, creates particular difficulties.
Often the collaboration of the psychologist, paralegal and investigator in the sharing of information facilitates the documentation of the otherwise elusive evidence required to establish BWS as an element of the defense. In sessions with the client the psychologist elicits instances of abuse from the repressed recess of memory. The fact that the victim tends to minimize the incidents or block them out completely, makes the psychologist more effective in ferreting out the details and chronology. Armed with these leads, the paralegal and investigator can then develop corroborating evidence through police or medical reports and contemporaneous witnesses to same. The minimization of the episodes by the batterer, his denial of same and his attempts to shift responsibility for his behavior to the victim all combine to make the victim feel that she somehow invited the abuse. These behaviors by both the dominant party and the victim compound the evidentiary problems. The batterer’s isolation of his victim by limiting and controlling her circle of friends, his use of jealousy to justify his actions and the victim’s poor self-image are elements often more easily elicited by the psychologist during their sessions. Then some salient fact can be fed to the waiting paralegal and investigator for corroboration.
The litany of abuses which Mr. Lilley so masterfully had catalogued for the jury proved overwhelming. Indeed the prosecutor, Thomas A. Goodwin, a brilliant, seasoned trial
2 Domestic Violence on Trial: PSYCHOLOGICAL AND LEGAL DIMENSIONS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE. Ed. Daniel J. Sonkin, Ph.D. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1987.
Lawyer admitted after the evidence had been closed that the charge should have been manslaughter. He had felt betrayed by the investigation of the Maine State Police on behalf of the State. Mr. Lilley had described how the pattern had waxed over the years: “Jack would hit Jackie, send her to her room, slap her, blacken her eye, bloody her nose, and pin her to a stone wall with his car on one occasion. He had urinated on her in the bathtub on their wedding night! He had threatened to kick her out of the house if she visited her mother, assaulted her approximately once a month for four years, from 1970 through 1974, broken her ear drum, hit her eye blurring her vision, beaten her up, thrown glass objects, tried to hit her with a piece of firewood while pinning her against the floor, demanded that she wait by the telephone for his calls, constantly told her that she was the problem, called her a fat, ugly pig, beaten her in the bathtub, forced sex upon her, threw a toaster at her head, forced objects in her vagina such as a banana, the handle of a knife, a Coke bottle, a candle and had raped her more than once. He also had frightened her by driving over a hundred miles an hour on a back road. He had taken money from her which he then had spent on his girlfriend. He had run her down with a car and driven her on the windshield. He had locked her in the bathroom and had the particularly nasty habit of locking her out of doors in the cold weather. He had pushed her into a stone fireplace, punched her, knocked her down the stairs on Christmas of 1989, threatened to kill her, told her repeatedly that no one liked her and had threatened to feed her to the alligators.”3
Fortunately the investigation in this case was well funded. The resources of our client allowed us to thoroughly canvass the community in which she lived and worked. Many of the above referenced instances of violence were documented by us only after gathering notes from her consultations with other attorneys and therapists. Court records of proceedings which resulted from instances of abuse, police reports of their responses to calls from the victim in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida, medical records from those jurisdictions are probing, by interviews, the memories of her friends and relatives. All were woven together to form the account of their tumultuous years together. The hours upon hours of interviews conducted over the course of the eighteen months between her arrest and trial enabled the defense team to present twenty two witnesses who testified to having observed instances of physical and emotional abuse or the evidence thereof after the fact. Multiple interviews of some key witnesses occurred after the psychologist and/or investigator who discovered other circumstances surrounding the incident which, when related to the witness, jogged their memory of previously forgotten details.
Attempts of the client to conceal these instances of abuse, typical behavior of the battered woman, complicated our task. She had used various devices to mask the effects of a facial bruise. She wore long-sleeved shirts even during warmer weather to cover the damage inflicted by her husband’s beatings. She made excuses or gave vague
3 National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers “Faith and Love”: Use of the Battered Woman Syndrome to Negate Specific Intent by Ellen Leesfield and Maryann Dutton-Douglas.
Explanations to those who did observe and comment. This behavior made it more difficult to jog the memory of a witness to a particular instance of abuse. These instances had to be placed in the context of a sequence of events around which the instance of abuse had occurred. For instance, a particular visit by friends on a holiday weekend during the summer months might produce a memory of something which had happened privately. The witness might then remember the masking attempt by our client on the following day. It was no easy task to unearth these episodes, although their frequency over the years had helped us do so.
Since Jackie was a prominent and respected member of the community, and Jack, because of his lifestyle, was less highly regarded, there was a great deal of support and sympathy for her within the area which the Attorney General’s Office and the Maine State Police underestimated. Often the interviewing of one witness with regard to a specific incident led to two or three additional witnesses to that event and their recollection of similar episodes. In that manner we were helped in overcoming the insidious deception which BWS fosters. We were able to develop the extensive history of abuse which played an important role in explaining our client’s actions on the morning of the shooting. Witnesses to incidents of abuse which had occurred some twenty years earlier telephoned the office of defense counsel during the trial after reading newspaper accounts of testimony from the preceding day. I was dispatched to interview some of them during trial and one actually testified despite not having been listed as a defense witness.
As I touched upon earlier the reputation of the deceased was well known in the community. We were able to develop evidence of his links to organized crime which led to very interesting testimony of my interview of a man whom Jack had tried to hire to kill Jackie six weeks before his death at her hands. Jack actually offered a man named Nick Theodore $5,000 to stage a robbery and kill Jackie in the process. This individual had telephoned Jackie afterwards to warn her. Theodore had not liked Jack Bevins nor the manner in which he had approached him. Jack had been tight with Jack Caruana, another Mafioso on the lam in the Cayman Islands. He had gone to see Caruana and asked him to put him in touch with a hitman. Caruana had introduced the two. Theodore, whom I interviewed through a disbarred Massachusetts lawyer who was familiar with Jackie, described the meeting between them in the islands.
Jack had been drinking heavily and ingesting cocaine. He had a much younger woman in his company that evening. He had taken Theodore aside and described the isolated ocean front home on Cape Neddick. He had explained Jackie’s propensity for carrying large amounts of cash to and from the restaurant. He had suggested the ease with which the crime could be made to look like an attempted robbery. Theodore told me that he had not liked the proposition. He had not liked Jack Bevins. He had not liked his demeanor, the fact that he had been “coked up.” Something smelled wrong to this professional. Improbably he had taken it upon himself to call Jackie and warn her that her husband was trying to have her killed. The disbarred lawyer, a mutual acquaintance of Jackie and Nick, had corroborated this. The ominous call had been made about six weeks prior to her shooting of Jack. The psychological experts retained by the defense had viewed that fact as pivotal in explaining her fear of Jack and what had caused her to shoot as he had charged her on that fateful morning. Many things happened in that bathroom during the moments which had ended his life and altered her own so dramatically, but murder was not among them.
The evidence showed that Jack Bevins was a charmer, that he could and did charm women of all ages to become emotionally and sexually involved with him. He had enjoyed stands of one night, one week and one year with a variety of women. He had rubbed Jackie’s nose in it. She had stayed. She had tried to fight back and we interviewed witnesses who had suggested that she may have been the aggressor. She was a tall, heavy woman and Jack was slightly smaller than she. As their relationship soured, the former statuesque homecoming queen had gained weight. She was quite overweight at the time of trial from having worked in restaurants all of her adult life. The hard working, big boned woman’s self-esteem had been eroded as a result of their relationship and her unhappiness. She had become obese and less attractive, although in her features, one saw the shadow of a beautiful woman. So the theory of the defense was that “Jackie was struggling to fight Jack, but just fight back,”5 trying in vain to salvage the vestiges of her dignity and self-respect. He always was in control, the dominant party, to her near absolute subservience so typical of battered victims.
Focusing on the morning of April 3, 1990, we tried to explain to the jury what had motivated her actions. The psychological experts had tried to explain what her thought process had been when she had discharged the handgun in his direction some fifteen times. The gun had been kept in the house for protection, it having been given to her by the Chief of Police for her safety. In the past, Jackie had put up with Jack’s dalliances. The gun had not been acquired in a moment of anger nor in a premeditated plan to kill Jack. Suzanne Jackson, alluded to earlier, had worked in Jackie’s Too as a bartender. Jack had carried on a year long affair with her under Jackie’s nose in 1985. He had taken her to Boston and set her up in an apartment. Jackie had become aware of that fact. She had not shot her abuser as a result of that relationship nor the many others both before and after it. Jackie had in fact consulted with counsel on a number of occasions, exploring the possibility of divorce. Ironically, she had such an appointment scheduled on the morning of the shooting.
The evidence showed that Jackie actually had filed for divorce twice prior to April 3, 1990, not having gone through with it either time. The evidence showed that Jack and Jackie were arguing on that morning upon his return from a weekend away with a 26 year old girlfriend whom he had acquired in the Cayman Islands that winter. He had shared with Jackie the fact that he intended to move her into a condominium in Ogunquit for the summer and live with her there. Jackie was not pleased by this suggestion and, as counsel suggested in his summation, it was obvious to everyone who saw them that morning because “Jackie wears her heart on her sleeve.”6 The evidence showed both through the State’s witnesses and our witnesses that she had spent hours crying over Jack throughout the years. This has been a classic love-hate relationship with all of the emotions and turmoil which accompany one. Ogunquit had seen all of this from them before.
One of the ironies of this particular chapter in their relationship was that Roberto and Cathy Cammarota, owners of another restaurant in town, a married couple friendly with Jackie, testified that on the morning of the shooting, Roberto was one of the last persons to talk with Jackie. He recalled for the jury that they had conversed just before Jackie had returned to her house where the shooting occurred. Jackie had told him that Jack wanted her to meet him at the house to get some sheets and pots and pans. He was planning to move into a condo and set up house with his new girlfriend. While she had been upset, she had seemed resigned to the situation. She said that after 23 years, she had had it. She intended to put this behind her; Jack could go his way and she was going to go her own way. It had not sounded from a defense point of view that she intended to shoot him. She was resigned to a divorce. There had been many similar scenes in the past which had not resulted in his death. She had been pushed to her limits on a number of similar occasions.
The jury agreed and Jackie Bevins was found not guilty after less than three hours of deliberations on October 31, 1991. A victory party that night coincided with the “Perfect Storm” of book and movie fame which ravaged the coast of Maine in a cleansing fury of biblical proportion.
Joseph D. Thornton, Jr., CLI
October 31, 1991