A Lesson In Tragedy
By Joe Webb
I have been following the story of the
tragic death of Savannah Cass McMahan and the subsequent
re-victimization of her family by a lazy, distracted, certainly
incompetent, and probably ethically-compromised District Attorney
General's office. My emotions have swung from excruciating sorrow for
the young woman's family, to an almost blind fury at the notion of
allowing her alleged killer to walk free. This infuriates me (fathers of
daughters reading this will understand).
As I read the coverage of this tragedy and the compounding epic farse
that is the criminal justice system in the 9th Judicial District under
Russell Johnson, something caught my eye and it added a new dimension.
Maybe this is a teachable moment in our lives. Maybe there is something
important to be learned in this horror. Maybe something good can come
from something so terribly bad.
The thought came reading Hugh Willet's excellent coverage of this story
for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. In his story "Family critical of plea
deal in shooting", Mr. Willet writes of John McMahan, the victim's
father "McMahan said he witnessed the couple's frequent arguments and
what he called "bullying" by Harvey." Willet goes on to quote Mr.
McMahan "She said she was going to leave him several times before the
shooting," he said. "I know that's why he shot her, because she said she
was going to leave."
Did you catch it? Did you see the teachable moment? I'll give you a
hint: The key word is "bullying" suggesting domestic violence that just
didn't get addressed in time. Tragically, many don't and maybe that
lesson is the silver lining here. This tragedy may have given us an
opportunity to think deeply and critically about domestic violence, and
our response as a community to domestic violence.
There are some things you should know:
Nothing can bring this young woman back to life.
- Battering on women is the most under reported
crime in America.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury
to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States; more
than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. "Violence Against
Women, A Majority Staff Report," Committee on the Judiciary, United
States Senate, 102nd Congress, October 1992, p.3.
- Three to four million women in the United States
are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands,
or male lovers. "Women and Violence," Hearings before the U.S.
Senate Judiciary Committee, August 29 and December 11, 1990, Senate
Hearing 101-939, pt. 1, p. 12.
- One woman is beaten by her husband or partner
every 15 seconds in the United States. Uniform Crime Reports,
Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991.
- About 1 out of 4 women are likely to be abused by
a partner in her lifetime. Sara Glazer, "Violence, Against Women" CO
Researcher, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., Volume 3, Number 8,
February, 1993, p. 171.
- Approximately 95% of the victims of domestic
violence are women. Statistics, National Clearinghouse for the
Defense of Battered Women, Ruth Peachey, M.D. 1988.
- Police report that between 40% and 60% of the
calls they receive, especially on the night shift, are domestic
violence disputes. Carrillo, Roxann "Violence Against Women: An
Obstacle to Development," Human Development Report, 1990.
- Battering occurs among people of all races, ages,
socio-economic classes, religious affiliations, occupations, and
- Fifty percent of all homeless women and children
in this country are fleeing domestic violence. Senator Joseph Biden,
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Violence Against Women:
Victims of the System, 1991.
- A battering incident is rarely an isolated event.
- Battering tends to increase and become more
violent over time.
- Many batterers learned violent behavior growing
up in an abusive family.
- 25% - 45% of all women who are battered are
battered during pregnancy.
- Domestic violence does not end immediately with
separation. Over 70% of the women injured in domestic violence cases
are injured after separation.
- Domestic violence is not only physical and sexual
violence but also psychological. Psychological violence means
intense and repetitive degradation, creating isolation, and
controlling the actions or behaviors of the spouse through
intimidation or manipulation to the detriment of the individual.
"Five Year State Master Plan for the Prevention of and Service for
Domestic Violence." Utah State Department of Human Services, January
Nothing we can do or say will reduce here family's sorrow. That is up to
God. There are however some concrete things that you can do:
1) Educate yourself and especially your children about domestic
2) If you're aware of a situation where domestic violence is occurring,
3) If you voted for Mr. Russell Johnson to be elected to the office of
9th Judicial District Attorney General, make a $10.00 donation to Iva's
Place, a domestic violence shelter in Lenoir City, to make amends for
your role in the re-victimization of Savannah Cass McMahan's family. You
owe them an apology -- and you know it. I can't think of a better, more
appropriate, productive, and meaningful way to express that apology.
4) Even if you didn't vote for Johnson, consider donating to the vital
mission of Iva's Place, or maybe volunteer your time. They can use all
the help they can get. Visit
http://www.ivasplace.com to learn how to help.
5) Thank Hugh Willet and his editor at the Knoxville News-Sentinel for
his tireless coverage of this story.
6) Remember how you feel right now when it is time to cast another vote
for a district attorney general.