For more than a decade, court records show John Wayne Strawser Jr., 39, of Terra Alta, West Virginia, harassed, intimidated and even became violent with numerous intimate partners, yet courts in Maryland and West Virginia never put him in jail as punishment.
Strawser only served time in jail following a DWI arrest in 2014 and a subsequent probation violation.
In total, he spent roughly two weeks behind bars before he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Amy Lou Buckingham, in West Virginia in 2015.
This is despite multiple convictions and numerous female victims that amount to a pattern of increasingly more frequent and more violent domestic violence incidents.
Strawser is now accused of killing 28-year-old Timothy Davison, of Maine, on Interstate 81 near Greencastle on Jan. 4, 2014.
But, what about Strawser’s case is anomalous and what about it can serve as a spotlight on the criminal justice system’s handling of domestic violence offenders?
“I think what saddens me the most is that so much of this could have been prevented,” said Sarah Colome, Training and Technical Assistance Program manager for the national anti-domestic violence group Break the Cycle. “Not by (the victims). This in no way was their fault, but by the (criminal justice) system’s responses, which really needed to be in line to recognize the patterns of abuse, as the clear need that Strawser had for intervention in his unhealthy or eventually abusive relationship behaviors.”
Beginning in 2001, Strawser’s criminal history was riddled with women coming forward either seeking court orders protecting them from him or flat out requesting charges be filed against Strawser for his behavior against them.
“When we talk about domestic violence, we talk about a pattern of coercive control,” said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Certainly, Mr. Strawser evidenced that pattern over and over again.”
This included one woman who said Strawser stole her truck, another who said he poured bleach on her clothes when she tried to end the relationship and two women who said Strawser stalked them and destroyed their vehicles when they tried to break up with him.
“There were so many entry points throughout this where some, if not all, of this could have been prevented,” she said of Buckingham and Davison’s deaths. “It just saddens me that this was the unfortunate result.”
In 2015 alone there were more than 140 deaths resulting from domestic violence instances, according to PCADV.
Nationally, nearly a quarter of all women and about 14 percent of all men experience severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey.
Despite the pervasive nature of domestic violence, Kramer said it is often difficult to get authorities to handle these cases with the care and severity they deserve.
“How much information did the individual courts have in front of them when making decisions?” she said. “It’s often difficult to convince a court unless they are looking at severe physical injuries or homicide that domestic violence is real and it needs to be taken seriously, not just for victims’ safety but these offenders have to be held accountable in meaningful ways to stop that pattern of violence.”
Both Kramer and Colome said courts and law enforcement can benefit from more specialized training and coordination with domestic violence experts to better handle these cases and to better identify the perpetrators who are most likely to commit even more severe violence.
“We always hear that courts are so burdened and prosecutors have so many cases,” Kramer said. “But, until they slow down and take a careful look at these cases and learn everything they need to know and be informed enough to know what kind of factors they should be looking for, I think we are likely to see these patterns of behavior repeat.”