Ex-jail guard's sentencing highlights domestic violence
OSSIPEE — A former corrections officer from Tuftonboro will spend a year in jail for seriously beating his wife — an ex-corrections officer who believes her now ex-husband deserved more time behind bars.
"I think he got off pretty easy," Carin Hallam, 30, said of the plea agreement struck by George Ash.
Ash, 41, a former sergeant with the Merrimack County House of Corrections in Boscawen, appeared before Judge Steven Houran in Carroll County Superior Court last Thursday and averted a trial by pleading guilty to a felony assault charge and two misdemeanors in the May attack.
In a statement she read in court to the man she met on the job, Hallam said the first three years of the marriage were happy ones.
Hallam, who lived with Ash and four young children for nearly eight years, said she was shocked when her husband first struck her five years ago.
"I stayed because I was convinced that if I didn't make him too angry then things would be fine and there would be no fighting. Well, I was a fool," she stated in her victim's impact letter.
"May 13th, 2013 was the worst day I've ever had to endure, it was almost my last day on earth," Hallam said in her statement. That was the day Ash punched her, dragged by her hair and slammed her head into the bathroom floor. She said the doctor who treated her said one more bang to the head could have killed her.
Ash pleaded guilty to second-degree felony assault, one count of misdemeanor criminal threatening and one count of misdemeanor obstructing a report of a crime or injury. He will serve 12 months in the Carroll County House of Corrections and face an additional year of probation upon release.
Carroll County Corrections Attorney Robin Gordon said that since Ash had no prior convictions, a harsher sentence following a trial may have been unlikely.
Domestic violence battle
The sentencing in the Ash case wrapped up in the final weeks of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month — a time when Gordon is shining a spotlight on domestic violence cases.
"Despite the efforts being made, despite services available, men and women are being killed, isolated, beaten, punched, slapped, shoved and strangled by their spouses and partners. This conduct has become part of our culture and it is outrageous," said Gordon. She said by the time domestic violence cases reach her office, they involve felony-level offenses and at times attempted murder.
Before and during court proceedings, victims receive assistance from Melissa Smith, the director of the Victim Witness Program at the Carroll County Attorney's office.
Smith said one challenge that arises in domestic assault cases is the victim has second thoughts.
"They struggle with how to put together a life that doesn't involve [the perpetrator]. Most of the time, the victim is dependent emotionally and financially. We try to help them see it through, but it's not an easy thing to do by any stretch," said Smith.
Hallam does not work for the corrections department anymore, and is looking for a job.
"I'm trying to figure out what to do, she said Monday. She still suffers headaches and dizziness from three concussions that resulted from domestic violence.
But on the positive front, she said the children, now 4 to 11, are less stressed.
"They don't hear fighting every day," said Hallam, who would like to help other victims of abuse by volunteering.
Since 2009, The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office and the Governor's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence have offered Lethality Assessment Protocol trainings to law enforcement personnel.
Sessions were recently held in Littleton and in Concord in October, with other classes planned next month. Gordon said the classes train first responders how to identify victims of possible domestic abuse and whether that victim is at risk for serious bodily injury. Officers are trained to detect acts such as strangulation or signs of hair-pulling, and are given a set of questions to review with victims.
Gordon encouraged victims of domestic violence to talk with someone, with friends, with employers, and with the police. "Domestic violence — I prefer to call it family and intimate partner violence — has to be addressed in the light of day. Change does not happen without bold action," she said.
According to a summary of data from the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, domestic violence was one of the nation's leading causes of death between 2001 and 2010.
"Home is a dangerous place for a domestic violence victim — 84 percent of domestic violence homicides occurred in the home while only 15 percent of these homicides occurred at some other place than a residence," according to the report. Women were the victims in 67 percent of the homicides.
Gordon provided additional statewide numbers that show nearly 8,000 women in New Hampshire and 375 men accessed domestic violence services in 2011.
Carroll County's domestic and sexual violence prevention program is called Starting Point.
Their most recent numbers from 2012 show that 366 women and 39 men utilized Starting Point's services.
Carroll County residents can call Starting Point for many support services. For information on the web, go to startingpointnh.org.
Starting Point offers a 24-hour support line, 800-336-3795, emergency shelter, support groups, court advocacy, hospital advocacy, child advocacy center accompaniment, an annual healing retreat and a resource center.
Starting Point has offices in Conway (447-2494) and in Wolfeboro (452-8014).
All services are offered free of charge and are strictly confidential.