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Home / Articles / News / Features /  Behind Closed Doors: DV 2009
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Behind Closed Doors: DV 2009

A murder draws attention to domestic violence epidemic

December 23, 2009, 12:00 am

Jury selection in the trial for the May shooting deaths of Sarah M Lovato, then 17 and pregnant, and her father, Bennie Ray Lovato, Sr., begins Feb. 9, 2010. But the murder trial of young Lovato’s boyfriend, security guard Marino K “Reno” Leyba, won’t begin until June.

Last month, attorneys on both sides of the case filed witness and evidence lists. Prosecutors will introduce a two-page letter from Sarah Lovato. Sources tell SFR Lovato was planning, out of fear, to leave Leyba, who, records show, grew up in an abusive family.

The defense witness list includes nearly every police officer who ever responded to a call involving Leyba or his father, Marino M Leyba, who brought his son into the security business. There were many calls.

It is a textbook case of domestic violence: Not only in terms of how it can pass through generations, but how abuse can escalate when the problem goes ignored.

Carol Horwitz, the city’s domestic and sexual violence liaison, made a shrine for the victims at a town hall meeting in October. Looking back, she recalls how the year brought a wave of terrifying domestic violence crimes.

“We had Lovato. We also had the woman whose boyfriend put a gun to her head and put a hole in her brain. That was in December [2008]…Then we had the boiling water incident. Then we had the woman who was so badly beaten she was taken to the hospital, and [her boyfriend] got probation,” Horwitz tells SFR. “There’s been lots of strangulations—probably more than 100 attempted murders [by choking]. Then there were literally hundreds of 911 calls where there’s an argument, and it almost always has to do with money.”

The wave did not discriminate: It hit Santa Fe’s low-lying trailer parks and its tranquil-seeming hillside estates. In its ongoing coverage, SFR found that local police failed to protect victims and pursue abusers, neglecting their responsibilities under federal law, while courts proved ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of family violence and abuse [click HERE for our extensive coverage throughout 2009].

Fortunately, the problems got noticed. In an interview with SFR, US Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, fresh from a trip to Afghanistan, volunteered that women there face some of the same pressures as women here. At the national level, the plight of women was identified as a root cause of global ills, from poverty to dictatorship. In a new book, Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, authors Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn report the existence of 100 million “missing” women worldwide, many murdered by possessive men.

What is at stake, besides life and death? Domestic violence threatens the prosperity of all, New York lawyer and DV expert Barry Goldstein says.

“If you look at statistics of prison inmates, the vast majority grew up in homes where there was domestic violence or child abuse or both,” Goldstein tells SFR. “Think about women whose partners are abusing them: They’re not going to reach their potential.” Neither, he says, will their children or the abusers themselves.

“You can calculate what that does to our economy, to the well-being of people,” Goldstein says. “The harm is enormous. And to let it continue in other people’s lives when we know how to stop it is an outrage.”

A few local elected leaders have begun to address the problem. And President Obama appointed former New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Lynn Rosenthal as the nation’s first domestic violence czar.

Change will likely take generations. That is one long-term goal of the Reel Fathers project, founded by local filmmaker Deborah Boldt and Allan Shedlin, a retired educator in Maryland. The project brings fathers and their children together for a short film, followed by a soul-baring discussion led by Santa Fe “spiritual coach” Don McAvinchey.

“There were a few dads at the last event who’d been abused severely. They just decided, ‘I was not going to be like my dad,’” McAvinchey says. “One dad said instead of whipping his children, he wants to talk to his children.”

It’s a start. In the meantime, the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families faces a budget that precludes its expansion, even though, according to figures provided by Executive Director Sherry Taylor, the shelter took in nearly twice as many adult victims this year as in 2008. What’s ahead for 2010?

“I expect to see a drop in funding,” Taylor says. “I don’t see the need decreasing at all.”

 

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