A group of national and local advocates renewed their call for the Kern County District Attorney to drop the murder charge against Wendy Howard a few hours before her trial began Tuesday because they said Howard suffered domestic violence from a former boyfriend and fatally shot him in self-defense.
“We're here today to call upon (Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer) as a wife, as a mother, who would defend her family the very same way, to drop all charges,” advocate Courtney Morris said at a group rally in front of Kern County Superior Court.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel, a spokesman for the DA’s office, previously said a gag order on the case precludes him from speaking.
A grassroots organization called the Wendy Howard Defense Committee joined forces with national group Survived & Punished to speak about Howard’s case and how a high volume of incarcerated women have survived domestic violence, despite the system failing them.
Howard’s daughter, Bayley Frost, spoke about the sexual abuse she said she endured at the hands of her father, Kelly Pitts. Howard has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the shooting death of Pitts.
Frost told those gathered how she worried if her mother could attend her high school graduation and raise her siblings. Howard was simply protecting all of them from Pitts, she added.
“He was a monster,” Frost told the audience, while sniffing tears. “And, I can say that — that is no allegation.”
Frost only wants to tell her about her day and hug her. Howard has posted bail and is out of custody.
“(My mom) is a hero for what she did,” Frost added.
The Californian generally does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse. However, Frost is speaking publicly.
Morris said Howard faces 50 years to life in prison and will never see her family again if convicted and sentenced to prison. She has already lost time and money for legal fees when arrested for the charge.
Alisa Bierria, co-founder of Survived & Punished, a national coalition advocating to end criminalizing women who suffer domestic violence, said many victims find it hard to escape abusive relationships. Research shows domestic violence becomes harsher when people try to escape, she added.
But, Howard escaped, Bierria said. And when faced with her daughters’ alleged sexual molestation, compounded by years of abuse, Howard made a split-second decision, Bierria added.
That decision was made to protect her family after the police didn’t arrest Pitts. She shot him in self-defense, Bierria noted.
Domestic violence victims often face a triple bind: deadly violence, underfunded resources and prosecutors who neglect to protect victims who then are forced to act in self-defense, said Bierria, who is also a professor of gender violence at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It's unacceptable to punish a victim of domestic violence for defending her life,” Bierria said.