tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera January 29, 2015 7:00am-7:31am EST
you can reach me directly at @ray suarez news. from washington, i'm ray suarez. >> we're driving to a crime scene in a suburb outside of columbia, south carolina... we've come because more women are killed by men here than any other state in the country... around 10:30 in the morning, a family of four, including two children, were found here. they were shot dead.
the handgun was right next to the father. the lights are still on, even though the bodies were removed earlier. every day in america, at least three women are murdered by their husbands or intimate partners. and the majority of them are killed with a gun. fault lines has traveled to south carolina to explore the circumstances that put women at risk of domestic violence homicide. >> 911, what's the emergency? >> my baby daddy just slapped me in the face and got me bleeding. >> thank you. and your name, ma'am? >> zakiya lawson. >> this was your baby's...your children's father? >> yes, ma'am. >> and what's his name? >> peter williams.
he's leaving now. >> does he have access to any weapons? >> yes, he might have one on him, a revolver. >> ok, are you or anybody else in immediate danger? >> i might be after this phone call. >> so she never told any of you that they had this abusive relationship? the way he was? >> i knew about it. i knew about couple of incidents or whatever but i kind of didn't do anything about it because she asked me not to. >> she was not afraid obviously. >> i think that kiya knew he was crazy, i believe that she was scared but she was just shrugging it off like he's not going to harm me. i said ok. >> zakiya had broken up with peter williams but they had a baby together, named seven, the youngest of her children. >> four months later, on the morning of june 18th, 2013
zakiya came home from her job on the night shift at walmart to find peter waiting for her. she called her sisters toni and niki, who drove to her house. >> before we even got there, i was on the phone with the 911 operator. >> hello, this is charleston county 911. we received a call from this number. is everything ok? >> no, we need a police to... >> as soon as we got there, we didn't think anything about it... we just went in. >> after i walked in the house and i saw it, i was like, he looked different, he looked like, like he didn't look human. >> kiya, what's wrong? >> he's mad because i don't want to be with him. >> well, why don't you want to be with him, kiya? >> because he don't treat me right. >> well, ok, why can't you all just talk about... >> so i kept asking her, kiya, just say you'll be back with him, just say it you'll all be back together. >> we were both in the house back and forth, trying to get him to let her go. >> every time she gets closer to me, he gets closer to her. so if she moves, he moves. and she's like "toni, he has a gun." i said, "a gun?" >> and i was like, what's really going on here?
>> and we just tried to plea with him not to do what he was thinking to do. >> taking somebody else's life ain't worth it. if you do something to her it's worse. i mean it's going to be worse! you'll never see her again! you got a whole baby to think of. taking somebody else's life ain't worth it. >> at one point he starts looking outside. >> he saw the police, he was like "you guys called the police on me? i'm like "no, no, it's alright it's alright." and the police was like "get out, get out get out! and i was like "oh my god, why?" >> get out of the house now. get out to the roadway! out to the roadway! >> get off of me! >> at that point he snatched her, and i ran out the house. >> he grabbed her. >> and then i heard the first gunshot, and then the second gunshot went off.
>> the second shot was peter killing himself. >> "mama" >> that's kiya. >> we are with kiya and her kids every day. we talk every day. so it's noticeable that she's not here. it's noticeable that she's not in this circle right here, talking. you don't only hurt that person, you don't only take someone else's life, you take the family's life. that day kiya died, i feel i died also. sometimes i feel i'm just walking around her, i'm just existing, i'm just walking around here, just because i'm breathing.
>> looking for a small .357 or .38 caliber revolver, preferably made by ruger. oh here it is. this is the weapon that peter used to kill zakiya lawson. handguns are the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides. >> this is armslist, it's the largest online gun site in the country. >> i'm looking for a cheap handgun for around .150 and $250.
he's laying the money on the bed. this is completely unregulated. anyone can buy from a private party here without going through a background check. private sales can be completely anonymous -- no id, no background check no records. >> critics call this the "private sale" loophole, an estimated 40 percent of gun sales that are largely invisible. >> we'd been told that south carolina's weak gun laws contributed to its high rate of domestic homicide. so our crew took a hidden camera to a gun show to see if buying a gun illegally was as easy as sources said. licensed dealers are required to run federal background checks and keep records of sales. we'll stop at a private sellers table >> what's required for the purchase, what do you need from us? >> show me you're a south carolina resident and show me
some money. private sales between individuals must be done within the state. >> within the state? >> i can't cross state lines. >> this is $325 and this is $600... we find another group of private sellers, and pick out a handgun. >> is cash all right? >> cash... >> cash and carry's ok? >> yep. south carolina id >> uh, if we're from out of state, is there a way to... we're just passing through... >> there are grey areas that do come in handy. >> well i have to be extremely careful with them grey areas. >> what are you looking for? kind of nice. >> what do you want? >> what do we want? the .40 here. >> i'll take it out with them. all we're going to do is put it in a box. >> sounds good. how much? what's >> $425 >> you didn't get it from us. >> we hand over the cash and we walk out with the gun - no id, no background check, no record. all in less than an hour.
>> later that day, we sold the gun back to a licensed pawnshop. in 9 out of 10 gun crimes, the shooter is not the original purchaser. guns are sold from licensed dealers and then pass through private sellers without a trace. >> owning a gun does not cause you to kill your wife. but if you are an abusive man who's committed domestic violence, then that gun increases the risk that a homicide will come out of that domestic violence. >> in states that require a background check for every handgun sale, fbi data shows that 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners. >> but last year, the national rifle association helped defeat president obama's gun control proposal, which would have required background checks for all private sales at gun shows
and online. >> gerry stoudemire is president of the gun owners club of south carolina, and works closely with the nra here. >> ok, right now it is loaded and ready to fire... >> it's empty. there are millions of guns sold every year in the us that never hurt anybody. and the people don't intend to hurt anybody. the purpose for buying it was not for doing harm to another person. but for shooting. >> so you think that the laws that are in place right now are the right ones? no more laws are necessary? >> i feel that we have plenty of laws in effect that are not being enforced. >> for example?
>> people that are prohibited from having guns or shooting people everyday with them. what's the penalty for getting for doing it? are we enforcing the penalty, or are we having a revolving court system that just puts them right back on the street and they do it again the next day. this is what i've see the problem to be. we've got to make... every crime has got to have a penalty and it's got to be enforced. >> but in a majority of states including south carolina officers aren't required to seize a gun if someone is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. it's illegal under federal law but only a federal agent can bring charges. >> quite frankly the federal government resources are scarce. if anybody thinks that they are going to be or they are in a position to charge and prosecute these many many many cases, they are deluding themselves.
>> south carolina only requires the person be notified of the federal law in writing. >> all that sentence is is a notification to the convicted individual that if he is in possession of firearms or ammunition he is in violation of federal law. that is all it is. it doesn't require him to do anything, it doesn't require local law enforcement to do anything. believe it or not, there was opposition to even putting those words on a piece of paper. it took us weeks and weeks of negotiations. so you can see where the mind set in this state is. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines. primetime news. >> welcome to al jazeera america. >> stories that impact the world, affect the nation and touch your life. >> i'm back. i'm not going anywhere this time. >> only on al jazeera america.
nine years before he shot zakiya lawson. his list of charges included assault and battery with intent to kill, attempted murder, criminal domestic violence, and assault and battery 2nd degree. fault lines obtained court records that show peter's violence involved seven different women in three counties. four weeks before killing zakiya, peter was released from jail on a $25,000 bond. mark peper is a defense attorney in charleston who had represented peter in the past. >> just a quick thumb through of his rap sheet shows how many times he'd missed court, how many times been accused of doing these same exact things with different women it's very clear to me that this court did not have the appropriate information to make an informed decision as to what kind of bond should be set on this charge because a $25,000 dollar bond for somebody that has this track
record of convictions and pending charges is just way to low okay. you're going to find a bondsman that'll take $500 dollars to bond him out. >> but how can that happen? how can it be that you know.. >> it's possible that when charleston county brought him over to set his bond they didn't either have access or just didn't ask for access for the other two counties records right? and this has happened on multiple occasions with multiple different victims in multiple different jurisdictions >> there's a pattern, i mean that... >> there's a pattern right right >> if i'm zakiya lawson's family i want to know why if they had the information why was that bond set so low if they didn't have the information and that's why it was set so low why didn't they have that information. the system is not what pulled
the trigger i know that but the system allowed peter to be in the position. >> they have to stop patting these people on the wrist. they get a bond, they get out. these girls get restraining orders, the guys don't adhere to it. they think it's a joke, the law's a joke. our life is worth more. but we need to get on it. because i can't stand to lose >> legislation has been introduced that would toughen penalties for abusers.
the bill would increase jail time for first-time offenders, and prohibit them from possessing a gun as a condition of bond. they would also be required to attend batterers intervention counseling, something peter williams never had to do. george hamilton began working as a counselor here 15 years ago >> when i went to that first group there was an engineer, there was a military person, there was a minister of a large church. and so my impression was shattered because this was not what i thought batterers were all about. >> okay, for the new person, what we'd like for you to do is talk a little bit about the situation that led you to being a part of the program. >> as part of their sentences, these men have been court ordered to attend group sessions for 26 weeks. >> me and my wife got into it pretty much. we got into a fight and now i'm in these classes. and they finally gave my sentencing and i'm doing 365
days of weekend time, which comes out to three and a half years to complete. >> whistles >> is this your first time offense? >> no. >> the group is designed to interrupt the cycle of violence and teach the men new behaviors >> i am powerless to change it. that is probably one of the most challenging, one of the most difficult thing to do. why is it so hard to admit that i can't make this person do what they don't want to do? >> its not about something the wife has done its about something somebody else has done, and the guy will take it out on his wife >> i used to be a real angry (sound dips) >> wallace smith is a peer counselor here. thirty years ago, he voluntarily checked himself into a batterers intervention group for abusing his ex-wife >> this is the best thing that ever happened to me coming to this group. if i hadn't came to this group thirty years ago, i'd probably be dead today or on death row because that's the kind of mind set i had.
>> anyway you can abuse a person i abused her. calling her the bad names, verbal abuse, trying to control every move of her life >> so did it ever get violent or was it just like verbal? >> oh yea, oh yea, it got real violent. i remember one time i broke her jaw because she cooked the wrong food. this is hard to say but i raped her one time because she was my wife and i thought that she was my property and i could do with my property as i pleased, and that was bad and that was hard for me to get over with. i came from an abusive home where i seen my father abuse my mother on a daily basis, and i didn't want my kid to grow up that way. i figured i needed to do something. >> you really gotta grab yourself... >> research shows that men who
can take responsibility for their violence are less likely to repeat it. >> it's a struggle and it's gonna continue to be a struggle, i think as long as you live. i know for me it's going to be a struggle. >> the domestic abuse center runs batterers groups across south carolina. here in oconee county in the far northwest, they work with sheriff mike crenshaw, who says part of the problem is a culture of silence. >> with being in the deep south, traditionally when you think of domestic violence, it was for so many years, it's been a topic that no body wanted to discuss. you don't need to talk about this with your pastor, or if you did you were told to go back home. ya'll need to work this out. we've got to change this culture. it's not going to be overnight. >> back to back murder-suicides over the 4th of july weekend in 2012 were a turning point for
this quiet, rural community. >> it's this brick home right here... >> this one? >> yes, this is the incident location where marge, the victim, in the summer of 2012 was murdered by her husband, and then he committed suicide inside the home. marge putnam was shot by her husband of 38 years after she decided to leave him. >> i think she probably thought she had reached the point where she was strong enough to stand up to him. years, earlier years, i think she did whatever he wanted her to do. >> marge's family says the controlling behavior had gone on for decades behind closed doors >> you get in this small community where you have this one person that is doing everything right and even though
at home he's either physically or mentally or emotionally abusing his wife, nobody is going to look at that. >> there's a tendency too to not mind anybody else's business. you know, "that's not my business. if that's what they want to do over there, well, as long as it doesn't affect me, that's ok." >> we begin to go out into the community, and we begin talking about domestic violence and that began to change the mindset. folks begin to open their hearts. and in about nine months people in okonee county gave over 1 million dollars so that okonee county can have a shelter for victims of domestic violence. >> it will be the first safe house of its kind in oconee. >> when i think about the house being opened, i think about margie saying that
[chokes up and starts crying] "it is a safe place for somebody. >> i'm sorry. >> i'm sorry. somebody else can be saved. and hopefully not to have to live for 40 years of fear. that's what i hope out of all this, out of that tragedy, that we have that safe place for somebody to go to now. it's not in vain. >> right that we can save somebody.
>> it hit home, basically. so we have to, we have to reach out to other people. that's our thing now. we can't just sit back and like "oh my god, somebody else is gone... by the hands of a man". >> while it's too late for zakiya lawson, north charleston recently received federal funding for a program that tracks high-risk offenders, like peter williams, and makes it harder for them to roam freely. a similar program in maryland reduced its domestic homicide rate by 34 percent over the past five years. it was based on pioneering research by dr. jacquelyn campbell. >> we have definitely decreased
domestic violence homicides. so we have made women safer. there is no doubt about it. but, right now there's somewhere around sixteen hundred women being killed every year for domestic violence homicide so that, that, last sixteen hundred is tough. we're going to have to expend some more resources, and we're going to have to decide as a country, as a state, as a community it's worth it. i think we can but it's going to take some community will to do it. >> we didn't just lose her life, we lost a big part of our lives. a chunk of our heart is missing because every week, us, we would be together. >> it's brought light. her death has brought light. we need to do something about it.
we need to stand up and say "enough is enough". >> "let it go, seven. let it go" >> domestic violence is a purple symbol and that's kiya favorite color. so she stood for, that's how we feel, like she basically stood for domestic violence. >> a crisis on the border... >> thery're vulnarable... these are refugees... >> migrent kids flooding into the u.s. >> we're gonna go and see josue who's just been deported... >> why are so many children fleeing? >> your children will be a part of my group or killed... >> fault lines al jazeera america's
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