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Court case, shooting put spotlight on the domestic violence issue

Delbert Cooper

Delbert Cooper

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Tragic cases

There are a number of cases of domestic violence escalating into tragedy, including:

Jo Murphy, 38, Oswego. Shot to death in August 2011. Court records showed a history of domestic violence between Murphy and her alleged killer, 39-year-old Daniel Kiefer.

Police said Kiefer showed up at Murphy’s Oswego home with a shotgun, shooting his ex-girlfriend in the garage of her two-story home before turning the gun on himself.

According to court documents filed by Murphy, Kiefer had been both physically and verbally abusive on several occasions, even once threatening Murphy with a gun.

In August 2010, Murphy filed a request for an emergency order of protection against Kiefer in Kendall County Court. That request was granted based on allegations that Kiefer had left threatening text and voice messages which included the sound of Kiefer cocking a weapon.

Several days before the emergency order was set to expire, and two weeks after she filed it, Murphy withdrew the request, and the case was dropped.

Court records indicate the abuse continued. Kiefer was charged with domestic battery on Nov. 13, 2010, for allegedly smacking Murphy in the face numerous time, grabbing her by her hair, and slamming her head into the ground. Court records show those charged were later dropped when Murphy failed to show up for court hearings.

Kari Clawson, 28, Oswego. Stabbed to death in September 2009. Clawson was allegedly stabbed four times by an ex-boyfriend before he turned a gun on himself during a domestic argument.

Police said that man, Steven Hogan, then 28, laid the blame at his own hand when he called his mother on Sept. 8, saying he had just killed his girlfriend and was planning to kill himself, according to police. Clawson, a 28-year-old hair stylist, was found dead in her condo. Hogan was found unresponsive. He was taken to a hospital, but died later the same day.

Kendall Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Pearson said officers had been called to the apartment once in 2008.

“It wasn’t even a domestic. It was more of a keep-the-peace situation,” Pearson said. “They were just arguing over some property.”

Clawson’s parents described her as “too kind.” “She was just a sweet, caring girl who didn’t know how to say ‘no’ to people and men in her life have taken advantage of that,” Brown said.

Brenetta Beck, 25, Aurora. Stabbed to death in October 2007. A hospice worker and mother of two, Brenetta Beck was stabbed 54 times inside her Aurora apartment over what prosecutors said was an argument over child support payments. Hezekiah Hamilton, the father of Beck’s two young children, was sentenced to 55 years in prison for murdering his longtime ex-girlfriend in front of the couple’s 14-month-old daughter and 10-day-old son.

During his trial, details about abuse Hamilton endured while growing up were brought to light. He allegedly witnessed his father attack his mother with a machete when he was just 7 years old. Judge Timothy Sheldon knocked five years off of Hamilton’s sentence because of the man’s past.

“This was a horrible, violent death of a loving and giving young mother, daughter and niece,” Sheldon said. “It is ironic that Mr. Hamilton stands charged with a knife offense. (Considering his past), this young man may not have had much of a chance.”

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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:26AM

The two cases have many similarities.

Renee Perry, 21, and Rachel Taylor, 22, were both young mothers working hard to raise their children.

Both lived in Aurora.

Both had two children with men who had violent pasts.

Both women ended up dead.

One case ended in a murder conviction, the other in a murder charge that is making its way through the court system.

In December 2011, Perry was strangled to death and stabbed in the neck. Delbert Cooper, the father of her children, was convicted of first degree murder in the case. According to prosecutors, after the killing Cooper covered the young mother’s body with a pile of clothing and jackets and then left the apartment to smoke crack cocaine.

Almost exactly two years later, Taylor was shot and killed down the street from the Aurora home of Christopher Whetstone, 45, after allegedly breaking off the couple’s three-year relationship.

Police said Taylor, 22, died last week from multiple gunshot wounds to her abdomen. Whetstone has been charged with first-degree murder in her death.

A long journey

On Friday, Perry’s family came to the end of their search for justice. After a five-day trial, jurors found Cooper guilty of first-degree murder.

For Taylor’s adoptive parents, Paulette and Dan Taylor, that search for justice is just getting underway.

“[Renee] was thinking about cutting things off [with Cooper],” Renee’s mother, Yvette Strawder, said about her daughter’s volatile four-year long relationship.

Cooper had a violent past. Court records show that in 2000, Cooper was charged with punching and choking an ex-girlfriend. In 2006, he was accused of attempted murder, aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery in Cook County after he choked a female relative until she passed out. He pleaded guilty to aggravated domestic battery and was sentenced to four years in prison.

“I knew Renee was scared,” Strawder said, but despite the warning signs, she never summoned up the courage to leave.

Likewise, Paulette Taylor said her daughter started having second thoughts about her relationship with Whetstone and to the potential danger of her situation.

Like Cooper, Whetstone has a history of violence against women. For the last two decades, Whetstone has accumulated a series of felony domestic battery charges for threatening women, beating women, and in one instance, pushing his mother. Kane County court records show that despite rehabilitation efforts, Whetstone continued to commit the crimes.

Whetstone has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.

“We knew he had a bad background,” Paulette Taylor said “but Rachel trusted people too easily ... Her trusting spirit kept her from seeing the real truth of what she had gotten herself into. It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around. We tried everything [to get her to leave], but when it came down to it, it was Rachel’s choice.”

Difficult situations

Aurora Police Cmdr. Kristen Ziman said it is easy for victims to connect the dots when looking back at an abusive relationship.

Red flags present themselves, but a victim’s eyes must be open for those flags to be seen, she said.

Ziman has worked for five years as a domestic violence investigator with the department, and has spoken with many victims about their trials and tribulations.

“They recall feeling uncomfortable with the put-downs, being stripped of their identity,” Ziman said. “They become broken. The fracture starts with something tiny, the put-downs and things that chip away at a victim’s self-esteem. Once that happens, you become vulnerable.”

Strawder said in Perry and Cooper’s relationship, the signs were apparent. Cooper had been charged with spitting in Renee’s face during one domestic incident in 2010, and had a history of substance abuse that the couple would argue about.

Strawder said Cooper would try and keep Perry from speaking with her family, and would constantly tell her that she wasn’t loved by them.

“People fall into the security of a relationship thinking, ‘He would never [hurt me],’ until he finally does,” Ziman said. “The signs are all there, but people choose to ignore them. That is human nature.”

Ziman said that in domestic violence situations, education is imperative.

“The key is to wake them up in the middle of the cycle. You need to get them to become conscious of it,” she said. “But, that is the hardest thing to do.”

People will stay for the children, for their religion, “for a million reasons they talk themselves out of leaving,” Ziman said.

“It turns from verbal abuse, to possession, to accusations of cheating, and continues until friends are lost,” she said. “Then they’ll start ostracizing the victim from their family and won’t let them talk to anyone, and then it turns violent ... You add substance abuse to that equation, and it is fuel for the fire.”

In September 2013, Taylor says her daughter confided in her that her relationship with Whetstone had turned physically abusive but police have no record of any abuse being reported.

If there was abuse and it wasn’t reported, such a situation is what frustrates Ziman most.

“You can’t shut the blinds,” she said. “You can’t be quiet about it.”

Looking back, Paulette Taylor said she wishes she would have known the details of Whetstone’s past, which included an order of protection filed by his ex-wife, and a list of arrests ranging from drug possession to theft, disorderly conduct, battery, violations of an order of protection, drunken driving and home invasion.

“If I would have known it was that bad, I would have had more ammunition to show Rachel that he wasn’t going to change,” she said. “What would I tell other mothers in my situation? Don’t give up trying to open their eyes. Try and make them see that just because you love someone doesn’t mean it’s a good relationship. Sometimes you can’t help who you love, but sometimes it’s a destructive relationship and you have to step away for your own safety, and especially if there are children involved.”

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