Thursday, May 6, 2010

Commerce Man Kills Sons, Self

Two days ago, a Georgia man killed his young son and stepson before taking his own life.

Relatives of 36-year-old Keith Jermaine Gresham found the Commerce man dead Monday afternoon inside a car parked on a remote dirt road between Commerce and Jefferson, according to Chief Deputy David Cochran of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

The two boys, Keionte Gresham, 4, and Keion Gresham, 7, were found shot to death outside the vehicle.

Keith Gresham was Keion's natural father, according to Cochran.

Cochran told the AJC on Tuesday that Keith Gresham had been involved in an ongoing domestic dispute with the children's mother, who had custody of the boys.

She let the boys spend the weekend with Gresham, but he failed to return them.

On Monday morning, relatives got phone calls and text messages from Gresham, who threatened to harm himself, Cochran said. They went looking for Gresham and the boys, and found them dead on Old Woods Bridge Road.

OnlineAthens has more details:

Prosecutors were attempting to revoke his probation because he had been charged with aggravated stalking in Oglethorpe County and misdemeanor marijuana possession in Jackson County.

Gresham and the boys' mother, Catrina Doster, had been separated for at least a year.

A Jackson County judge granted Doster a 12-month restraining order against Gresham in 2008 and a second 12-month restraining order in October 2009 requiring him to stay 500 yards away from her and her children, according to documents filed in the Jackson County court clerk's office.

However, she allowed Gresham to visit with the children this weekend in advance of his probation revocation hearing, Cochran said.

But when he didn't return the children, Doster, who lives outside of Jackson County, filed an interference with custody complaint with the Commerce Police Department on Monday morning.
Some women want their children to continue a relationship with their father even after they have separated, while others fear harm or an expensive custody battle if the try to keep the kids away. Unfortunately, this case is indicative of a horrifying trend:

In the nine months between June 2009 and April 2010, 75 children have been killed by fathers involved in volatile custody battles with their former partners, according to the Center for Judicial Excellence, a court advocacy organization which has been tracking news articles of such deaths around the U.S. Based in San Rafael, California, the Center focuses on strengthening court integrity as well as improving public accountability of the judiciary.

Some recent examples from the dockets of Family Courts around the country:

» Teigan Peters Brown (3 years old), shot to death by his father during a court-ordered visit. (Arizona June 2009)
» Bekm Bacon (8 months), killed by father, who then killed himself during overnight visitation. (Idaho Feb 2010)
» Janiyah Nicole Hale (1 year), father is charged with her death during an overnight visitation. He is a registered sex offender. (Alabama July 2009)
Office judges do not give women a choice, and many don't take a history of domestic violence into consideration when awarding visitation or custody to violent man.

Experts say abusers use the court system to exercise control over their former partner’s lives, manipulating the players and risking the safety and well being of the children’s lives the courts are sworn to protect.

“Family courts are trained to look for cooperative behavior,” says Rob (Roberta) Valente, general counsel for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which is based in Washington D.C. “When someone raises an abuse allegation, the court sees it as uncooperative behavior. The result, advocates say, is that the abuser is able to manipulate the court, while a child’s safety and well-being is placed at risk. Many judges are likely to view abuse complaints as a tactic to win custody battles. What the courts have failed to take into account but research has clearly shown time and time again, is that most of the cases that make it to trial in family court are high-risk abuse cases.

Compounding the problem is that judges, attorneys and custody evaluators have little or no training in detecting signs of abuse.

Just 20 per cent of the almost one million divorces and separations registered every year in the U.S. actually land in court. Most are settled in the pre-trial phase, according to Prof. Janet Johnston of San Jose State University, in research studies written for the journal, The Family Court Review.

But of the few who make it to a judge, over 75 percent of these cases are victims of some form of domestic or sexual abuse, according to a 1995 paper by Prof. Peter Jaffe of the University of Western Ontario, who studies children and violence in U.S. and Canadian court systems.

Today’s family courts have also been affected by the rise of the Fathers Rights movement. During the 1950s, family courts almost exclusively awarded custody to mothers. But complaints by fathers that their rights were ignored in custody battles led to a shift in the 1970s to awarding shared custody, on the grounds that it was in the best interest of the child to maintain a relationship with both parents.

Nevertheless, only a small percentage of high-conflict cases require judges to act as conciliators between parties locked in otherwise endless litigation. The majority involve mothers and children that are suffering from serious sexual or domestic abuse.

The National Father Resource Center disputes this, claiming that its member organizations report that 80 percent of mothers’ abuse allegations are false. Although Canadian research from the University of Toronto studying false allegations in U.S. and Canadian custody cases has found that between one and two percent of mothers make false allegations, the fathers’ rights argument has had a powerful impact. As shown by the Tagle case, courts don’t want to hear the mothers’ allegations.

“Historically, allegations of abuse and incest are [met] with a great deal of suspicion, and there is a tremendous resistance to hearing these types of allegations,” said Eileen King, director of Justice for Children, a national non-profit that works to protect children involved in contested custody cases.
Even OnlineAthens felt the need to sneak this comment into their article:
Watson described her cousin as a devoted father who saw his children as often as he could.

"Keith has always been a good dad," she said. "Nobody could separate him from his children. Even when he and Catrina split up, he still went to see his kids."

You know what makes a man a good dad? Not beating up mom! Even after the couple separate, the father's attitudes toward women and violence continue to shape the children's worldview. Unless he is willing to attend counseling or an intervention program to address his abusive past, judges should seriously consider whether allowing the father to parent is really in the children's best interests.

For more information, read the whole article from The Crime Report.

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