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National advocacy groups protest in front of courthouse over domestic violence

National and local advocates for domestic violence survivors gathered in front of Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield Friday morning to demand that the District Attorney’s Office drop charges against two Kern County women, Michaele Bowers and Wendy Howard. The group of more than 40 advocates and supporters of the women claim that the women only defended themselves against their partners to survive and that they have been victimized by the justice system.

“You are an extension of her abuser,” said Tanesha Ash-Shakoor, the founder of Voices of Color, who flew in from Michigan for the protest.

Bowers is currently serving a six-year sentence in state prison; she accepted a plea bargain of voluntary manslaughter in September, after two previous trials resulted in hung juries.

Howard appeared at the rally with her family and spoke after learning that her trial would be pushed back to March.

“This has been one of the hardest things for me to go through. We are ready to heal,” she told the crowd, which included her children and grandchildren. “We are ready for these charges to be dropped.”

She is accused of killing Kelly Rees Pitts, 59. Supporters of Howard say she was acting in defense of herself and her daughters, who were allegedly sexually abused by Pitts. Howard said Pitts had previously tried to rape and kill her, according to the police reports filed in court. The Californian does not generally name alleged victims of sexual crimes, but in this case they have publicly spoken out.

DA spokesman Joseph Kinzel said a court order precluded him from addressing the details of Howard’s case.

Bowers’ son, Orlynn Bailey, wrote a statement on behalf of his mother that was read at the rally.

“During both trials, the prosecutor could not provide credible witnesses against my mother, but has stated that my mother was indeed a victim of domestic violence,” the statement read. “However, the prosecutor insists on keeping my mother incarcerated and has shown much zeal and commitment in continuing to prosecute her despite two mistrials. This is an apparent example of coercion that ultimately pushed my mother to accept a plea deal.”

Kinzel said the domestic violence evidence presented at trial was misdemeanor conduct in 1999 and mid-2000s, which did not result in the arrest or conviction of Raymond Ingram.

“Decades-old incidents of domestic violence do not grant anyone a license to kill, and a killing for revenge or in anger is not self-defense,” Kinzel said. “Ms. Bowers pled to voluntary manslaughter, accepting the penalty for the unlawful killing, and knowing the six-year sentence that would follow. By doing so, she acknowledged the existence of all elements of the crime, which includes that the killing was not done in self-defense.”

The protest was put together by the national group Survived & Punished.