by: Jazmin Bailey
MEDINA, Ohio (WJW) – Ohio’s legislative session ends in a little more than a month.
Domestic violence survivors are watching closely to see whether a bill that would strengthen penalties for strangulation will pass.
“The look in someone’s eyes when they are intentionally trying to deprive you of air; that doesn’t leave you,” said Jess Patz, a domestic violence survivor who says she married her abuser at 22.
Patz said the mental and physical abuse, including strangulation, began before the Wooster couple said their vows. Five months into the marriage, Patz found the courage to leave but said she still wasn’t safe.
“We were exchanging the kids, and he strangled me again with them right in between us,” said Patz. “My coworkers kind of forced me down to the police station because I had his fingerprints around my neck. And he was arrested. He was charged with domestic violence. He had previous felonies from other crimes, but they weren’t a crime of violence. So, it was a misdemeanor, and it was pled down to disorderly conduct, and he walked out of the court with a $50 fine.”
Strangulation is a felony in 49 states. Ohio is not one of them.
Multiple attempts have been made to change that: the latest Senate Bill 90, introduced last year. The bill’s co-sponsor, State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), told FOX 8 that lawmakers have until the third week of December to get it passed.
“If someone is convicted of domestic violence, it comes with a way to sentence, just by increasing the felony status of strangulation. It really means that the perpetrator is going to spend some time in jail away from their victim,” said Sen. Antonio.
Antonio also said the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have met to agree on language in the bill. She’s cautiously optimistic their testimony could help the legislation get out of committee.
“Anytime strangulation is committed as a violent act, and the victim survives,” said Antonio. “She, and it’s usually she, has a 700% chance of actually being murdered by that perpetrator in the future.”
For Patz, focusing on the potential for future violence is extremely important. Following the misdemeanor, her ex-husband remarried. His second wife, Angie Miller, told FOX 8 he strangled her too. Many times until she passed out.
One night, Miller says her ex-husband’s action landed him in prison.
“He came down the steps, and he had his belt in his hand, and he grabbed his belt, and he wrapped it around my neck, and he strangled me with his belt,” said Miller.
When Miller gained consciousness, she says her ex threatened her.
“He told me to ‘Be honest with me,’ or he was gonna kill me,” said Miller. “Again, he thought I was cheating on him. I was not. I told him I was being honest. So, he grabbed the belt, and he put his foot on my chest, and he pulled the belt again and strangled me again, and when I woke up this time, I was terrified. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to make it through the night.”
Miller was strangled three times that night.
She said her ex-husband punched her repeatedly, breaking her nose, and then sexually assaulted her. Later on, Miller decided to grab her car keys and run. Moments after she got behind the wheel, he jumped on the hood.
“I told him, ‘I’m not, I’m not stopping. I gotta go,’” said Miller. “He stood up on my car, and he stomped in the windshield of my car, but I rolled down my window, stuck my head out the window, and I drove myself to the hospital.”
Miller and Patz’s abuser is currently serving consecutive sentences. Ten years for rape, five years for kidnapping, and five years for felonious assault. Years after the conviction, both women hope lawmakers will pass Senate Bill 90.
“Please remember, these are people’s lives that hang in the balance of you voting, and it has been numerous attempts and several years where we could have already made a difference, and we haven’t,” said Patz.