The sun was hours from setting on July 17, and Jerry Lynn Wood had already started fighting with his girlfriend. He was angry she never helped with the housework, she later told police, despite her chronic depression and terminal brain tumor.
He called her a “lazy fucking bitch,” broke a desk fan over her head, threw a cordless drill at her feet, beat her with his fists. She fled into her bedroom, but left the door unlocked. He entered with a gun.
The shot put a hole in the wall. “Are you trying to kill me now?” she said.
Wood’s response—according to the police report containing this account—was chilling. “If I was trying to kill you,” he said, “I would have.”
He let her go on one condition: If she called police, he would hunt her down and kill her.
She called 911 from a friend’s home. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Rachel Weber found the woman on a couch, crying. Her back bore cuts and bruises; there was a bump on her head. Wood was probably at his father’s house nearby, she said.
Despite a legal mandate to make an arrest in domestic violence cases with evidence of injury, Sgt. Mike Post told Weber “not to attempt to apprehend” Wood due to his “agitated demeanor and him possessing several rifles and shotguns,” according to Weber’s report.
Sheriff Greg Solano calls that decision a mistake. “I understand the supervisor was probably thinking of officer safety, but…that’s why we have a SWAT team,” Solano says.
Furthermore, as of last week, police had still not searched Wood’s home for weapons, according to Undersheriff Robert Garcia.
Garcia says Wood has been in contact with police and “wants to turn himself in, but cannot afford the bond. Every time they ask to meet, [Wood] does not show up.”
According to Garcia, Wood denies his girlfriend’s allegations. And in the days since calling 911, she has made attempts to get any charges against Wood dropped, along with her protection order. “It happens in cases like this,” Garcia says.
Wood did not return a cell phone message from SFR. As of July 30, he was a free and lucky man. Lucky the police chose not to pursue him. Lucky to have such a supportive girlfriend. Lucky the law let him have guns at all.
Federal law says convicted felons may not possess firearms. The same law applies to people convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime. But that law has so many loopholes as to be nearly useless—at least in New Mexico, where local prosecutors say its provisions are too cumbersome to apply.
Wood’s domestic violence conviction dates to 2003, when he served 18 hours in the Santa Fe County jail on a charge of battery against a household member. He eventually pleaded guilty in exchange for a light sentence from Santa Fe County Magistrate Judge Bill Dimas, including 364 days probation, alcohol treatment, anger-management counseling, 48 hours of community service at the Stanley Fire Department and $67 in fees.
The court file contains a sheet of paper from the Torrance County Domestic Violence Program, certifying Wood “completed 26 weeks of Domestic & Non Violence Training.” Another counselor called Wood “very motivated,” writing, “I feel Jerry has come a long way.”
Almost every official interviewed for this story believes New Mexico also has come a long way from the days when violence in the home was a family secret, when a man could beat his wife bloody knowing no one would stop him.