Monday, February 15, 2010

Women Stabbed to Death During Custody Exchange

The man accused of stabbing his wife to death during a custody swap in a Walmart parking lot, then stabbing himself, has been released from the hospital and taken to jail on murder charges.

Phillip Chad Dunn, 28, of Lawrenceville was released from Gwinnett Medical Center on Sunday night. He is being held in the Gwinnett County Jail on charges of malice murder and felony murder.

The couple's daughters, ages 6 and 8, were present during the attack around 4 p.m. Sunday.

Suwanee Police responded to a call about an argument between a man and a woman in a Walmart parking lot. When police arrived, they found both had been stabbed, Capt. Cass Mooney, a Suwanee police spokesman, told the AJC.

Shelley Dyan Dunn, 27, of Buford, was pronounced dead at Gwinnett Medical Center.

“The meeting was a custody exchange between the husband and wife,” Mooney said. “At some point, the husband pulled out a knife, stabbing the wife and then himself.”

It is unclear if the girls witnessed the stabbing, Mooney said.
After reporting this story, the AJC immediately posted on their parenting blog, wondering why on earth these parents were meeting in a parking lot, as if meeting at one of their homes would somehow have made a stabbing less likely. The reality is that lots of custody exchanges happen in public places like fast food restaurants, stores like Walmart, even the local police station. If the parents have gone through a bad divorce they may not welcome their ex to their home and shouting matches are less likely to occur in public. Or the couple may have a history of domestic violence.

According to the American Bar Association's Commission on Domestic Violence, abusive parents are more likely than non-abusive parents to seek sole custody of children and abusive fathers win joint custody and unsupervised visitation at the same rate as non-abusive fathers. While non-abusive fathers may simply want to be with their children, abusive fathers are motivated by a desire to continue controlling and harassing their children's mother. If they are granted visitation or custody, they are guaranteed to see their victim regularly when they swap the children. In these cases, it is not safe for mom to allow dad to come to her home, or to go to his, because of the risk of further violence. Highly populated areas were once thought to provide some safety during exchanges but, as this tragic incident illustrates, safety is not assured.

If you are a woman who fears for her safety during the exchange of children for custody or visitation, please contact your attorney or your local domestic violence agency (1-800-799-SAFE) to discuss your options for supervised visitation or safe exchange. If you live in the Atlanta area, contact Nia's Place.

Update: Dunn had been arrested just two weeks before for choking his wife, but she was still under custody order to meet him to exchange the children.

Update: Another follow-up article detailing the couple's recent domestic violence history.

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