A Census of Domestic Violence Gun Homicides in Arizona

May 13, 2015

“A Census of Domestic Violence Gun Homicides in Arizona” reveals that 62 percent of women killed by intimate partners in Arizona were shot to death, and the rate of intimate partner gun homicides in Arizona is 45 percent higher than the national average.

Executive Summary

On December 20, 2012, after months of escalating harassment and violent threats, Joseph Leroy Francis approached his ex-girlfriend Ashley Hicks in the parking lot of her apartment building in Tucson, Arizona. He grabbed her arm and asked to talk to her. When she resisted, he shot her seven times, killing her.Corella, H., “Tucson man tells couple he killed their daughter, commits suicide,” Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 21, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1ykCVwc. Afterwards he drove to Ashley’s parents home, told them he had killed their daughter, and then went home and shot himself.Id.

The incident was tragic, and it also might have been prevented, since there was ample evidence that Joseph posed a danger to Ashley. On August 17, 2012, four months before the murder, Joseph assaulted Ashley in a grocery store. That same day, she obtained an order of protection against him.Tucson City Court Order of Protection number M-1041-DV12067768, issued August 17, 2012. The court that issued the order had the power to require Joseph to turn in his firearms — but chose not to, even though it is well established that a gun in the hands of a batterer increases fivefold the risk of homicide for his partner.J.C. Campbell, S.W. Webster, J.Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abuse intimate relationships: results from a multi-state case control study,” 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-97 (2003). Fifteen states mandate that people subject to domestic violence protection orders turn in their firearms,The following states and statutes require individuals under a domestic violence order of protection to turn in their guns: California (Cal Fam Code 6389); Colorado (175 Co Stat 13-14-105.5); Connecticut (Conn Gen Stat 29-36k(a)); Hawaii (Haw Rev Stat Ann 134 7(g), 134-7.3(b)); Iowa (Iowa Code 724.26(4)); Illinois (725 Ill Comp Stat 5/112A-14(b)(14.5)(a); 750 Ill Comp Stat 60/214(b)(14.5)(a)); Massachusetts (Mass Gen Laws ch 209A, 3B; Mass Gen Laws ch 140, 129D); Maryland (Md Code Ann Fam Law 4-506(f)); Minnesota (Minn Stat 518B.01, subd (6)g), (h)); North Carolina (NC Gen Stat 50B-3.1); New Hampshire (NH Rev Stat Ann 159-D:3, 173-B:5(I)), New York (NY Crim Proc Law 530.14(5)(a), (b), 6(a); NY Fam Ct Act 842-a5, NY Fam Ct Act 842-a6, NY Pen Law 400.05(6)); Tennessee (186 Tenn Code Ann 36-3-625(a)); Washington (Wash Rev Code Ann 9.41.800(3)); and Wisconsin (Wis Stat 813.12(4m), 813.122(5m)). but Arizona is not one of them.Ariz Rev Stat 13-3602(G)(4)

In the last months of Ashley’s life, Joseph repeatedly violated the order of protection. He broke into her home by punching through a window. He threw a motorcycle helmet at her and smashed her phone after she called the police. He brandished a knife and threatened to kill her with it. He visited her workplace.Id. Police received notification of the violations but Joseph was never charged.Tucson City Court Order of Protection number M-1041-DV12067768, issued August 17, 2012.

Ashley’s story is devastating and, unfortunately, not unique. Domestic violence homicides in Arizona are, to a significant degree, a problem of gun violence. According to an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of the last five years of FBI data, 62 percent of women killed by intimate partners in Arizona were shot to death.Everytown analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2008-12, available at: http://bit.ly/1yVxm4K. All told, the rate of intimate partner gun homicides in Arizona is 45 percent higher than the national average.Id.

To better assess the dynamics of domestic violence gun homicides in Arizona, Everytown collaborated with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (ACESDV) to closely examine intimate partner gun homicides in Arizona between 2009-2013. This research—the first and most comprehensive of its kind for the state—yielded the following findings:

  • In total, Everytown identified 105 homicides in Arizona between 2009-2013 in which someone was murdered with a firearm by a current or former intimate partner. In 89 percent of the cases, the victim was a woman. Perpetrators also shot 32 other victims — neighbors, friends, family members, and children — killing 25 of them, 11 of whom were children.
  • There were ample indications that the perpetrators posed a risk to their partners. One in seven shooters (13 percent) was prohibited from possessing firearms due to their criminal history or an active order of protection. Furthermore 41 percent of the shooters had a previous arrest or conviction or had been under an order of protection at one time.
  • Offenders under an active order of protection were rarely required to turn in their firearms. A person under an active order of protection is prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law,18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8). In Arizona, domestic violence restraining orders are issued ex parte, after which the respondent has the opportunity to request a hearing to contest the order. See: Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3602(I). There is some ambiguity as to whether an uncontested order meets the technical requirements of a prohibiting order under federal law. but of the perpetrators identified in this census that were under an active order of protection, only one in six has been affirmatively required to turn in their firearms.
  • The shootings occurred across the state but, controlling for population, the domestic violence gun homicide rate in Coconino, Mohave, and Yavapai counties is more than double that of the state as a whole.
  • Firearms were used far more frequently to murder an intimate partner than to kill an abuser in self-defense. Out of 105 incidents, only one perpetrator claiming to have used the firearm in self-defense had that claim upheld by a court. In at least four additional incidents, the victim had purchased a gun for self-defense prior to the incident but was not able to use it or worse, had it used against them.

The incidents documented in this report, and the data drawn from them, vividly illustrate that Arizona needs an improved approach to addressing the threat gun violence poses for victims of domestic violence.

Fatal Domestic Violence and Weak Gun Laws

Domestic violence affects the lives of millions of American women, and ends the lives of tens of thousands of them. More than a million American women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year,“Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control (March 2003), available at: http://1.usa.gov/1zgqF0l. and more than one in three American women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.Michele C. Black et al., “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report,” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov. 2011. Other research suggests more than one in four American women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetimes. See, e.g., Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2000).

Domestic violence is deeply connected with guns. Of physically abused women who live in households with guns, about two-thirds report that their partner had used it against them, most often by threatening to shoot or kill them.Susan B. Sorenson and Douglas J. Wiebe, “Weapons in the Lives of Battered Women,” 94 Am. J. Pub. Health 1412-1413 (2004). And guns make it more likely that domestic abuse will turn into murder: When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it increases fivefold the risk of homicide for women.J.C. Campbell, S.W. Webster, J.Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abuse intimate relationships: results from a multi-state case control study,” 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-97 (2003). Over the past 25 years in the U.S., more intimate partner homicides have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined.Professor April M. Zeoli, Letter to the Hon. Patrick J. Leahy and Charles Grassley, Jan. 28, 2013.

This connection is readily apparent in Arizona. Everytown analyzed the last five years of FBI data and found that 62 percent of women killed by intimate partners in Arizona were shot to death.Everytown analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2008-12, available at: http://bit.ly/1yVxm4K. In fact, the state’s domestic violence gun homicide rate was 45 percent higher than the national average.Id.

Because of the risk that firearms pose when they intersect with domestic violence, a patchwork of federal and state laws are in place to keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous domestic violence offenders. The most comprehensive system of laws prohibits domestic abusers and stalkers from buying and possessing guns, requires background checks for all gun sales, and creates processes to ensure that abusers and stalkers turn in the guns already in their possession when they become prohibited. When these laws are on the books and enforced properly, they save lives. In states that require background checks for all handgun sales, there are 46 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners.Everytown for Gun Safety, “State background check requirements and rates of domestic violence homicide,” available at: http://every.tw/1Aj9HZj. Furthermore, states that restrict access to firearms by those under domestic violence protective orders see a 25 percent reduction in intimate partner gun deaths.April Zeoli and Daniel Webster, “Effects of domestic violence policies, alcohol taxes and police staffing levels on intimate partner homicide in large US cities,” Journal of Injury Prevention, 2010, available at http://1.usa.gov/1IqT58h.

But in many states, gaps in the law and failures to enforce it effectively allow domestic violence abusers easy access to guns. Arizona’s gun laws contain such loopholes, and they pose lethal threats to the victims of domestic and family violence who are most at risk:

  • Arizona law does not require that people under domestic violence orders of protection turn in their guns, nor does it provide a clear process for turning them in when it is ordered.Ariz Rev Stat 13-3602(G)(4) In Arizona, a domestic violence order of protection may prohibit the offender from possessing a firearm and require him to turn in any guns already in his possession — but that important safeguard is not automatic. This judicial discretion means that many dangerous offenders keep their guns. Even when an abuser is ordered to turn in his firearms, there is no clear enforcement process to ensure he relinquishes them. In fact, between 2009-2013, at least six women who obtained orders of protection against their abusers were shot to death after the judge who issued the order failed to order to require the abuser to turn in his firearms.
  • Arizona law does not require background checks for all gun sales. Although federal law prohibits convicted domestic abusers and people subject to active domestic violence protection orders from buying guns, Arizona’s failure to require background checks for all gun sales greatly undermines the effectiveness of these restrictions. Background checks are required under federal law for all gun sales at licensed dealers, but abusers in Arizona who are prohibited from possessing firearms are still easily able to obtain them in unlicensed sales — notably at gun shows or online. On a recent day, the single website Armslist.com featured over 1,000 for-sale gun ads posted by unlicensed Arizona sellers.See: http://bit.ly/1JKzOSt, last accessed April 8, 2015. There is also definitive evidence that criminals are exploiting this loophole to arm themselves. A first-of-its-kind investigation by Everytown for Gun Safety showed that 1 in 30 would-be online gun buyers had committed crimes that should have barred him from possessing firearms, and 1 in 5 of these prohibited purchasers had a previous domestic violence conviction.Everytown for Gun Safety, Felon Seeks Firearm, No Strings Attached, (Sept. 2013), available at: http://bit.ly/1y5gGYE.
  • Arizona law only prohibits firearm possession by convicted abusers for a short period of time.Ariz Rev Stat 13-3602(G)(4) Arizona only prohibits people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from buying or possessing guns during the period the abuser is serving probation for the conviction. As soon as this period ends, so does Arizona’s firearms disability. By contrast, other states have recognized the danger posed by domestic abusers and have enacted laws permanently prohibiting convicted abusers from possessing guns.See: Co Stat 18-12-108(6)(c); Conn Gen Stat 53a-61, 53a-96, 53a-181d; Haw Rev Stat Ann 134-1, 134-7; 430 Ill Comp Stat 65/4(a)(2)(ix), 65/8(l), 725 Ill Comp Stat 5/112A-3(3); Iowa Code 724.26(2)(a); Ind. Code Ann 35-47-2-1(c), 35-47-4-6; NJ Stat Ann 2C:39-7b(1); NY Pen Law 400.00(1), 265.00(17); 18 Pa CS 6105(c)(9); Tenn Code Ann 39-17-1307(f)(1)(A); Wash Rev Code Ann 9.41.040, 9.41.010(18); W Va Code 61-7-7(a), 61-2-9(b), (c).

A Census of Intimate Partner Gun Homicides in Arizona

To examine how these loopholes play out in the lives of real Arizonans, Everytown examined every identifiable intimate partner gun homicide that occurred in the state between 2009 and 2013.

ChartThe dataset was derived from a variety of sources. ACESDV provided a list of shootings that it identified in media reports over that time period; all incidents in which the relationship between the shooter and the victim met the criteria of a domestic relationship under Arizona’s relevant statute were included in the sample.A.R.S. § 13-3601 Everytown expanded on this by identifying homicides between intimate partners that were listed in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports and tracking down further explanatory details in the press and court records.Everytown analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 2008-12, available at: http://bit.ly/1yVxm4K. Of all fatal shootings committed by intimate partners, Everytown excluded eight incidents in which the identity of the shooter could not be determined, in which the justice system determined the event was a Chartso-called “mercy killing,” or in which there was not sufficient evidence to determine whether the event was a homicide or a double-suicide.Eight incidents in which a person shot an intimate partner to death were excluded from the census for the following reasons: for two of those cases, Everytown was unable to find any information to confirm whether the shootings occurred and, if so, the basic circumstances of those shootings. In one case, where a husband and wife were found dead of gunshot wounds in their home, the police could not determine who shot whom. In two cases, there was strong evidence that the shootings were the result of a “suicide pact” — in one, a couple had made a video beforehand detailing their desire to die and their intentions to kill themselves; in the other, a couple found dead in a hotel room had left several notes indicating they both wished to commit suicide together. In three cases, authorities determined that the shootings were the result of so-called “mercy killings,” where the shooter killed an intimate partner who was critically ill.

For every case that met the criteria for inclusion, Everytown conducted additional research through publicly available news reports, subscription-based news databases, and court records. In cases where information was missing from public accounts, researchers contacted local officials to learn further details.

This census likely undercounts the true total of domestic violence gun homicides in the state because it fails to include deaths that were not reported in the media. Furthermore, the FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports do not categorize homicides between former dating partners, which are likely underrepresented as a result.

Nevertheless, this census represents the most comprehensive analysis of domestic violence gun homicide data in Arizona to-date, and the 105 shootings provide Arizona policymakers with important information on the nature, rate, and impact of intimate partner gun violence in their state. In isolation, these are tragedies, but taken together as a group, patterns emerge—as do opportunities for prevention.

5 Years = 105 Fatal Domestic Violence Shootings in Arizona = 191 Deaths

Who Was Killed or Injured

Victims of fatal domestic violence rarely died alone. In addition to murdering a current or former intimate partner, perpetrators shot 32 additional victims—neighbors, friends, family members, children — killing 25 of them, including 11 children. In total, the 105 shootings examined in this report resulted in 130 murders and seven non-fatal injuries. The majority of shooters (58 percent) committed suicide after killing their victims. In total, the incidents resulted in 191 gun deaths, of which 80 percent were women.

The Toll on Children

Children were severely impacted by the shootings. During the incidents perpetrators shot 13 children under 17, killing 11 of them. At least 44 other children were physically unharmed but present during the incidents: some watched a parent die; others discovered the body; some were the first to alert the police to the homicide; and several were found curled up next to the body of their dead parent when the police arrived.

Who Pulled the Trigger

The vast majority of the shootings (89 percent) were perpetrated by men, and they inflicted violence against women across the age-spectrum. The median age of shooters for whom it was known was 41 — more than a decade older than is typical of gun homicide perpetrators. About half of the couples were currently or formerly married (53 percent) and the remainder (47 percent) had dated or were dating.

Barred from Possessing Guns

ChartNearly one in seven shooters (13 percent) were prohibited from possessing firearms at the time of the shooting due to a felony conviction or an active restraining order. Nonetheless, they are able to get one anyway. An additional 25 percent of the shooters had previous arrests or convictions that did not disqualify the person from possessing firearms.

Guns in Self-Defense

ChartVictims of abuse may use firearms in defense, but these incidents were exceedingly rare compared to the number of incidents in which an abuser used a gun to kill an intimate partner. In fact, Everytown was able to identify only a single case where the shooter raised a self-defense claim and a court dismissed the charges against them.Everytown identified four cases in which a perpetrator raised a self-defense claim, but in only one case did the court accept that claim (as of April 28, 2015, one trial was ongoing). The incident involved Carmelita Williams, who claimed that her boyfriend attacked her before the shooting. In that case, the charges against the shooter were dropped, at the request of the prosecutor in the case, “in the interests of justice.”

In at least four additional incidents, the victim was in possession of a firearm but was not able to use it in self-defense, or worse, had it used against them.

Orders of Protection

In 13 cases, the victim or a third party was so concerned about the shooter that they went so far as to seek — and receive — an order of protection against him. Of those 13 orders, six had expired by the time of the shooting.

ChartOf the seven orders that were still active at the time of the shooting, researchers obtained six and found only one in which the judge ordered the shooter to turn in his firearms.

In an additional nine cases, the shooter had some other previous contact with the criminal justice system due to domestic violence. In total, in one in five incidents (21 percent), the criminal justice system had some indication that the victim was at risk, whether the victim had made a report to the police or the police had been called to the house, or there was a prior arrest, charge, conviction, or order of protection issued.

ChartOther Cofactors

There is a well-documented association between drug and alcohol abuse and violent behavior.Frederick P. Rivara and Arthur L. Kellermann, “Alcohol and Illicit Drug Abuse and the Risk of Violent Death in the Home,” JAMA 278, no. 7 (August 20, 1997). A significant share of convicted homicide offenders report having been under the influence of alcohol during the commission of their crime, according to one Department of Justice study.Jennifer C. Karberg and Doris J. James, Substance Dependence, Abuse, and Treatment of Jail Inmates, 2002, report no. NCJ 209588 (United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005). The same holds true for Arizona: in 14 of these shootings (13 percent), there was evidence that the perpetrator was intoxicated at the time of the incident. Eleven of the shooters were not prohibited from possessing guns under existing law but had been previously convicted of drug- or alcohol-related offenses.

While the data paints a stark picture of the impact of domestic violence gun homicides in Arizona, the cases described on the following pages highlight the ways in which weak gun laws may have contributed to the dynamics leading to the killings.

Avondale, Arizona: Order of Protection Failed to Affirmatively Require Abuser to Turn in his Firearms

On May 25, 2012, Thomas Moton confronted his ex-girlfriend Takesha Barnes in a school parking lot following her daughter’s eighth grade graduation and shot and killed her in front of her two children.“Documents detail women’s murder at hands of ex-boyfriend,” Fox10Phoenix.com, June 5, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1EuL011. Just four days earlier, Takesha had requested an order of protection against Thomas, graphically describing the physical abuse he perpetrated against her.

In the last 10 months, she wrote, Moton had “tried to run me and my children off the road. He has physically abused me by hitting me in the face and causing my nose to bleed. I am scared for our safety and what will happen to us in the near future.”Trial Courts of Arizona Order in Maricopa County, Order of Protection number FC2012-004436 issued May 21, 2012.

At the time the order was issued, Moton was already prohibited from possessing firearms due to two prior felony convictions in another state.In information obtained from a May 30, 2012, County of Maricopa Direct Complaint in Arizona Superior Court, on August 2, 1995, Moton was convicted of possession of crack cocaine with intent to deliver. On January 29, 1997, he was convicted of third-degree assault of an officer. But despite his prohibiting criminal history and the abuse that Barnes described, the judge did not order Moton to turn in any firearms when issuing the order of protection.

On October 11, 2013, Moton was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.Associated Press, “Thomas Lamont Moton convicted in shooting death of ex-girlfriend Takesha Barnes,” Sept. 16, 2013, available at: http://bit.ly/1EFIQgm.

Tucson, Arizona: Order of Protection Failed to Affirmatively Require Abuser to Turn in his Firearms

On January 13, 2012, James Leonard broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend Claudia Pascual, a mother of two young children, and fatally shot her and then himself.Smith, C., “The system couldn’t save her,” KGUN9 News, Oct. 26, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1GEAcAQ. Three months earlier, on November 18, 2011, Claudia had obtained an order of protection against James.

In her request she wrote that James “hit me and my 9-year-old son. I was punched several times in the head, breaking my glass[es] and bruising me and punching my son on his cheek bone, bruising his face.”Pima County Clerk of Superior Court, Order of Protection number DV20112447, issued November 18, 2011. James had faced charges for domestic violence in 2007, 2010, and 2011, but each time they were dismissed. Despite James’s abusive history, the judge that issued the order of protection did not prohibit James from possessing firearms nor require that he turn in any firearms he already owned.

Later, friends of Claudia would recall how James continually violated the order of protection in the months leading up to death: “He was continuing to stalk her and show up at her home, show up here at work, show up at the gym, sit outside her house, continually begging her to take him back and she was refusing to take him back and just wanting him to leave her alone.”Smith, C., “The system couldn’t save her,” KGUN9 News, Oct. 26, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1GEAcAQ.

Police reported that Claudia had purchased a firearm for protection, but it did not save her.Pima County Clerk of Superior Court, Order of Protection number DV20112447, issued November 18, 2011. Claudia was on the phone with her current boyfriend when James broke into her house; her last words to him were, “Oh my God, he’s here!”Smith, C., “The system couldn’t save her,” KGUN9 News, Oct. 26, 2012, available at: http://bit.ly/1GEAcAQ.

Seligman, Arizona: Order of Protection Failed to Affirmatively Require Abuser to Turn in his Firearms

On August 6, 2010, Robert Weisner kidnapped his ex-girlfriend Lorraine Long from her Scottsdale home, drove her to her home in the desert, and shot and killed her with her own handgun, before calling the police to report the crime.Williams, B., “Scottsdale man arrested in Seligman death,” ArizonaCentral.com, Aug. 9, 2010, available at: http://bit.ly/1zdgHY5. See also: Superior Court of Arizona evidentiary hearing number P1300 CR2010 00915, February 21, 2012. Five months earlier Lorraine had obtained an order of protection against him.

In her application, she described a pattern of harassment: “Robert has been leaving notes on my back door to let me know he was at my house. He emailed me obscenities… called and texted me all night long so I couldn’t sleep. He sen[ds] messages saying…‘Take my last call. This will be it and I will let you go.’”City Court of the City of Glendale, Maricopa County, Arizona Order of Protection number CV 2010004859, issued March 1, 2010.

Despite Robert’s disturbing behavior, the court did not order him to turn in any firearms when the protective order was issued, an omission magnified by a loophole in federal law that does not prohibit firearm possession by abusers under orders of protection if the victim is a non-cohabitating dating partner.

Robert was charged with first-degree murder, and is awaiting trial as of April 13, 2015.“Wiesner is ‘on track’ for August 2015 murder trial,” The Daily Courier, Mar. 7, 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1Q2DrDS.

Phoenix, Arizona: Prohibited from Buying Firearms but Obtained One at a Gun Show, Likely in an Unlicensed Sale

On March 30, 2009, Primitivo Madrigal Almonte, 45, fatally shot his wife Florinda Almonte, 45, in their home. When law enforcement arrived, officers found a .22 caliber handgun in his vehicle and determined that this was the weapon used in the shooting.

Because Primitivo was not an American citizen and was unlawfully present in the U.S., he was prohibited from possessing firearms. Primitivo told the arresting officer that he obtained the firearm several years prior to the homicide at a gun show.

In 2010, Primitivo pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Conclusion

The connection between domestic violence and gun homicides in Arizona is stark and well-documented, and the cases described in this report emphasize the scale, scope and dynamics of the problem. Together, they illustrate the devastating impact of intimate partner gun homicides—for those killed, for those injured, for those who witnessed the violence, and for those left behind.

While the cases are devastating, the deaths were not inevitable. Domestic violence gun homicides can be prevented by strengthening weak gun laws so abusers are denied access to firearms. Arizona policymakers should examine their current laws and address the loopholes that make it too easy for dangerous offenders to arm themselves—saving many lives in the process.

Click here to download a full appendix of intimate partner gun homicides in Arizona between 2009 and 2013.