September 17, 1995 in City

Woman Feels Abused By Courts Domestic Violence Saga Took Many Twists And Turns Before Prosecutors Abruptly Dropped Case

William Miller Staff writer
 

In a domestic violence saga with more plot twists than a legal thriller, Ramona Evans went from victim to defendant with dizzying speed.

Now she is once again the victim in the eyes of some.

Women’s rights advocates rallied behind the 51-year-old Spokane woman, outraged that Evans, who claims to have been battered throughout her 30-year marriage, was denied her day in court,

With no explanation or warning, prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor assault charge against her wealthy estranged husband - real estate developer D. Douglas Evans.

Ramona Evans had been willing to testify.

“What a travesty,” says Carolyn Morrison, director of the YWCA’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence program.

“What does that tell battered women who live with the fear every day? ‘Don’t dare open your mouth, because the system will not help you,”’ Morrison says.

“Why are they not listening to the victim? Why not give her a chance?” asks Vicki Wright, co-president of the National Organization for Women’s Spokane chapter and a counselor at a women’s shelter.

The protests mounted as Douglas Evans successfully pressed an assault charge against his wife - contending he’s the real battered spouse.

The trial was set to start this week in Spokane County District Court, but Evans suddenly changed his mind about testifying.

Late Friday, the prosecutor’s office obliged by dropping the charge.

Just two days earlier, Prosecutor Jim Sweetser vigorously defended the decision to prosecute the man’s charge instead of the woman’s.

“His case is stronger,” he says. “We have an obligation to not be gender-biased.”

Deputy Prosecutor Dave Nehen, who supervises the District Court unit, says the charge against Douglas Evans was tossed out because there was little chance of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We did not believe we could win,” he says.

To Ramona Evans, who teaches English at Gonzaga University and Whitworth College, this makes no sense.

“What kind of crazy system is this?” she asks. “I was willing to testify as a victim against the man who has abused me for 30 years, but the prosecutor’s office refused to help me. When and where does the victimization stop?”

She says she agonized for weeks over whether she should tell her story to a jury. She decided to do it after reading that more than 90 percent of battered women refuse to prosecute men who beat them. Many fear retribution. Others stand by their man out of warped sense of affection.

“I wanted to be one of the few who testify,” Ramona Evans says.

The mother of three grown children twice obtained protection orders against her husband, a former Green Beret who is 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. She is 5 feet 4 and weighs 150 pounds.

She claims he frequently pinned her against walls, stuck his face inches from her nose and shouted insults. During one of his “violent rages,” she claims he pushed her through a window, injuring her back. She never pressed charges.

“I probably should have divorced him many years ago,” she says, “but I felt compelled to stay together because of the children. My religious beliefs said for me to be forgiving, forgiving, forgiving - over and over again.”

She filed for divorce last fall. A short time later, on Nov. 28, she claims her husband assaulted her in their Rockwood Boulevard home.

Her story: He was angry, having just learned she took his business records to a divorce lawyer. He pushed her around the house, spit in her face, yanked her hair and slapped her repeatedly.

She escaped and ran across the street to a neighbor’s home, where she called 911. The fourth-degree assault charge was filed a few months later.

Douglas Evans, 52, denies assaulting his wife that night.

His story: They “hollered” and pushed each other around, but it didn’t escalate further.

Their 18-year-old son - the only witness - was willing to testify on his behalf.

“She had no case,” Douglas Evans says. “The reason it was thrown out was because I wasn’t guilty.”

When it comes to domestic violence, he insists he’s been the one on the receiving end.

He accuses her of assaulting him about a dozen times over the years - twice leaving him with black eyes. Never once, he says, did he start a fight.

“I put up with it forever. I let her pound on me. I’ve been taken advantage of for years and years and years, and it’s time to do something about it.”

The charge he pressed against her stems from an alleged Feb. 17 incident in his Spangle farmhouse.

He claims she was incensed over developments in the divorce and violated a no-contact order by surprising him in the bathroom as he was about to take a shower. “She came in swinging,” he says.

Over a period of about 25 minutes, he says she repeatedly punched and kicked him and he merely attempted to deflect the blows.

He showed his bruises to police, and says his teenage son once again was a witness.

If the case had gone to trial, Ramona Evans was prepared to tell a jury that she hit her husband in self-defense, believing her life was in danger.

Her attorneys, defending her for free, were eager to portray her as suffering from the traumatic effects of battered woman’s syndrome.

That is now legally a dead issue.

Evans’ anger over being steam-rolled by the system is very much alive. She still is waiting for Sweetser to respond to her calls and a four-page letter dated Aug. 25, which expresses her frustration over the handling of her case.

She didn’t get official word of it being dropped until she showed up for trial July 19.

Nehen apologizes for the lack of notice, but says the high-volume unit often can’t spare the time for such formalities. His seven deputy prosecutors are flooded with 14,000 misdemeanor cases every year.

As for Evans deserving her day in court, Nehen takes a Darwinian approach: Weak cases should not further strain an overloaded system. “We don’t have enough court space to do that with our victims,” he says.

Says Sweetser: “We’re trying to do everything we can to get women to stand up and get out of dysfunctional situations. But every case stands on the facts that can be proven in court. The two positions are not contradictory.”

Try telling that to Ramona Evans, who believes she was a fool to turn to the justice system for help.

“It’s cruel, vicious,” she says. “Do you know what it takes to get up the nerve to testify against your husband?”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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