Is Farming is Deadly or Is This a Domestic Violence Case?

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If we’re to believe Stephanie Lizon, being a farmer is a dangerous way to make a living.

Lizon is at the center of what appears to be one of the worst cases of domestic violence in recent history. The petite brunette looked tired and worn down Friday morning, as she sat directly behind her husband in a cramped Jackson County courtroom, her knees only inches away from the back of his chair. A pretty Lizon firmly replied, “I have no comment,” when I approached her prior to the preliminary hearing.

Lizon’s only comments about this case to anyone occurred between June 18 and 20, when she spoke to a few people about how she came to be so badly injured, and why she was attempting to flee from her husband. Following Friday’s hearing, Chief Deputy Tony Boggs told me that she simply refuses to speak to the authorities about anything that happened. (Which is the biggest reason why no mention of a stillborn baby, as initially reported, occurred during the hearing.)

Friday’s hearing was quite interesting. But the most surprising thing to me wasn’t that Lizon denied being abused, or even that she remains a sister of silence—that was just sad.

It was that the state had to subpoena employees from the local women’s shelter (the Family Crisis Intervention Center in Parkersburg) to testify about the malicious wounding charge facing Peter Lizon. (I can’t remember the last time I was in a courtroom when that happened, and I’ve been in many courtrooms.) Mr. Lizon was charged with that single count after his wife walked into a local rental equipment store on June 18 and asked for their help.

The law requires employees of domestic violence agencies to maintain confidentiality, as a way to help protect the victims who use their services. The funding that shelter agencies such as FCIC receive is contingent upon it.

However there are cases, and this is one of them, where shelter workers can be compelled to testify. In the words of Assistant Prosecutor Katie Casto, that statute (48-6-701) “is not absolute (and in specific instances) of clear and substantial evidence of imminent danger, they can testify without losing funding,” Casto said.

She then asked the court to find “that the sufficiency and necessity of their (the shelter worker) testimony outweighs the confidentiality of this case.”

Which Magistrate Jackie Casto, who is no relation to the prosecutor, granted—above the very vocal and oft-repeated objections of defense attorney Shawn Bayliss.

Why would the law require shelter workers to testify in a criminal hearing? Because sometimes, the stakes in a case are very high. This case appears to fit that criteria: a man is accused of chaining up his wife, of beating, burning and deliberately inflicting pain upon her, and of generally terrorizing her for 10 years. Sounds like a really good reason to me for anyone who has knowledge about those acts to be compelled to testify.

Bayliss also requested the case be dismissed, saying the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department didn’t conduct a reasonable investigation—but only after he repeatedly spoke in a way that made it seem to onlookers in the courtroom that he was trying to speak for Mrs. Lizon, as if he was her attorney. That’s one of the few times the prosecutor objected.

The defense also argued that the entire case was built upon “hearsay by a third party.”
(My guess is that third party would be the other victim in the shelter Mrs. Lizon spoke to, whom Bayliss earlier this week called “feeble-minded,” to the chagrin of domestic violence advocates all around the Mountain State, if not the world.)

Bayliss also objected to the state’s decision to charge his client with only one count, while trying to bring in evidence that pertains to many different instances of abuse.
Magistrate Casto denied Bayliss’ motion to dismiss, and overruled his objection about the state’s sole charge against Lizon.

(There was nothing Bayliss didn’t object to: by the time the hearing was almost over, the magistrate had called both attorneys to the bench. To the media seated in the second row just a few feet away, it appeared Bayliss was being chewed out by the magistrate, whose patience had finally run out. The patience of the media had worn out much earlier.)

Now for the sad part: Either this woman is terrified of her husband—not an unreasonable possibility, given the extent of her severe injuries—or she has Stockholm Syndrome. Or both, because her loyalties definitely seemed to be with the defense, rather than the prosecution.

Mrs. Lizon walked to the witness stand, wearing a gold band on her left hand and sporting a blackened, smashed fingernail on the middle finger of one hand. As she turned to sit down, it appeared she had a good deal of scarring on her right hand and wrist. And throughout her testimony, Mrs. Lizon adamantly denied being a victim. Instead, she tried to convince the court that her husband accidentally injured her or that she herself is accident prone, and simply a klutzy farmer.

Mrs. Lizon’s injuries were not mere cuts and bruises. They were severe injuries, as seen in 21 different photos taken on June 20 by the FCIC employee and shown in court Friday. Magistrate Casto allowed all 21 exhibits to be entered into evidence. The photos show gashes, burn marks—large burns on her breast and upper back (an area of her body she cannot even reach) from a hot iron and hot skillet. These are “severe, disfiguring marks and horrendous burns,” the prosecutor said.

Here’s where the shelter worker came in, and why her testimony was so crucial to this case and why, without it, the state would have had a much more difficult battle proving its malicious wounding case against Lizon’s husband.

After being dismissed as a witness and leaving the courtroom, Mrs. Lizon’s testimony was directly contradicted by the FCIC employee. She told the court that after arriving at the shelter under an assumed name on June 18, Mrs. Lizon told the worker she was afraid of her husband, and said he had deliberately injured her. (The magistrate ordered the media not to report the worker’s name.)

Included among those deliberate acts were dropping a loader attached to a farm tractor onto her feet and then “stomping on her leg and her side after throwing her on the ground. The FCIC employee said Mrs. Lizon told her he had, in fact, stomped on her badly injured foot or hurt it in other ways after that initial injury, whenever he was angry, re-injuring it.

When asked if she had received medical treatment for her injuries, Mrs. Lizon said she was treated on June 20, while staying at the shelter. Casto asked her why she didn’t get treatment sooner. Even though admitting it hurt and was difficult to talk on, “I didn’t think it warranted it,” Mrs. Lizon said. She also said she didn’t seek medical attention for any of the other injuries.

Finally and equally significant, Mrs. Lizon told that worker that her husband didn’t like the way she fixed his breakfast, so he intentionally and repeatedly hit her with the hot skillet.

This testimony conflicted with that of Mrs. Lizon, who said the tractor loader dropping onto her feet was an accident, that her husband had never struck her, that “we often get very passionate” when arguing, and that when she left on June 18, she just wanted to get away for a few days, after yet another argument. Mrs. Lizon said she only went to the shelter when several motels turned her away, because she didn’t have proper identification.

Nor did she have any money to pay for a hotel room. She testified to this, and previous articles about this case have said the rental store employees gave her money and called a taxi for her on June 18.

When she left their vehicle as her husband returned a rototiller to the rental store, Mrs. Lizon left behind her 13-month-old son. (Bayliss also objected to the state saying the child was at risk, because of living in a violent home.) If Mrs. Lizon had truly been afraid of her son’s safety, she would have taken him with her when she left, Bayliss said.

The FCIC’s testimony also spoke to that. After arriving at the shelter, she wanted to call her parents in Arlington, Va. Several phone calls back and forth ensued, and Mrs. Lizon’s mother secured a bus ticket home for her daughter, the worker said. But by the next morning, Mrs. Lizon refused to leave, saying she was going to get him out of the home. (The boy is now back with his mother.)

Magistrate Casto ruled the state proved probable cause exists in the malicious wounding charge. The case will now go to Jackson County Circuit Court, where it will be heard by Judge Thomas C. Evans III.

Bayliss asked Casto to hear two motions: one to have his client’s bond reduced, the other to have those conditions modified. Casto refused, saying the ruling had already been made, and the case is now under the circuit court’s jurisdiction. Bayliss again argued the matter, so Casto personally checked with Judge Evans, who said the matter can be placed on his docket. This case now goes to the grand jury, which Boggs said is set for October.

It’s very clear to me that Stephanie Lizon either sincerely believes her husband didn’t mean to hurt her, or she’s terrified to say he did. Quite honestly, I can see her going back to him in a heartbeat, if he’s freed from jail. Hopefully the system will prevent that and instead do what Casto said it’s designed to do: protect victims even when they don’t want protection.

* * * *

Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. She has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment.

Berry speaks at conferences around the country, most recently at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs in March 2012.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.
If you want to read more than 70 reviews, go to Amazon.

To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.


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