'Til Death do Us Part: Experts weigh in on domestic violence

'Til Death do Us Part: Experts weigh in on domestic violence

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In 2014 in Chatham County, three women were brutally killed at the hands of the men they had once been in relationships with. Sexual assault and domestic violence numbers are on the rise, and this is extremely troubling for local law enforcement and victim advocates.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said prosecuting atrocious crimes against women is a commitment her office does not take lightly.

"It's a priority because these are really serious crimes that affect the community and there also very silent crimes and many times our victims don't reach out," she said.

Safe Shelter Executive Director Cheryl Branch said this is exactly what keeps her up at night.

"It's just frustrating of course, because every time we have a homicide, we do our fatality review, I talk to the detectives. In the four we've had this past year, including the young women who were shot in Georgetown, we didn't hear from them," she said.

Kathleen Sheehan, Lauren Smart and Beverly Jones were all victims of domestic violence homicide in 2014, according to the Chatham County District Attorney's office. Daniel Sheehan faces a murder charge in Kathleen Sheehan's death. Norman Smart was found guilty on all counts of murder in his wife's death and sentenced to life without parole. Roman Eugene Hills has been charged with murder after police say he strangled Beverly Jones to death.

On New Year's Day 2015, Ramon Mooney, a man police say had a history of domestic violence, shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Bea Ribal.

Many may wonder why these women felt like they had no place to turn. Frank Pennington II, Assistant District Attorney in Chatham County, offered this explanation.

"It has everything to do with the dynamics put into place by the abuser. Those dynamics might be financial. They might be emotional. They might be the fact that they share children," he said.

Local advocates do not want those dynamics to prevent women from taking advantage of the resources in our community. Those resources include the Rape Crisis Center and Safe Shelter, and both organizations had a very busy 2014. The Safe Shelter helped 811 women in 2014, up from 668 in 2013. SCMPD had 585 domestic violence arrests. The Rape Crisis Center responded to 131 assault victims, and SCMPD reported 64 rapes.

Cheryl Branch applauded local law enforcement for pursuing these criminals.

"Our officers probably get more training in domestic violence than any other police force that I'm aware of," she said.

Branch wants all victims suffering through a cycle of domestic violence to be aware of one fact.

"You have an amazing group of passionate people who are standing ready to help you. It's not going to cost you anything and it could the very one thing that saves your life."

Join the WTOC Live Chat with Chatham County Assistant District Attorney Frank Pennington II and Cheryl Branch, Executive Director of Safe Shelter will be participating to answer any questions you have on domestic violence.

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