First-Hand Case For Judicial Training

by Guest Writer Roberta Waddle

Roberta Waddle

"You better watch out." Coming from a five year old at Christmas, you would expect the usual jingle about Santa Claus. It wasn't. She had just found out her father was out of jail and was warning her mother to be careful.

Unfortunately, my friend Danell Hernandez could not ever have been careful enough. A year later, her husband, Alex, shot and killed her, then killed himself. Now their child is an orphan dealing with that fact.

Alex had abused Danell throughout their eight-year marriage. At one point, they contacted a domestic violence program and went through counseling together. It seemed to help, for a while.

Danell Hernandez, a NOW member murdered by her estranged husband.

Then the abuse started again. Danell left their house, taking a few of her belongings and the eight loaded guns. For the next three months, she was in court numerous times, getting restraining orders, getting restraining orders modified and testifying as to Alex's latest round of harassment. She had a total of four restraining orders.

Alex spent much of December 1994 and January 1995 in jail for attacking Danell in her car and again in her house. He was never able successfully to complete one weekend of child visitation without an incident. Yet he never spent more than 30 days in jail, either.

Alex spent so much time harassing Danell that he lost his own job -- and she lost any child support he might have paid. After attacking Danell and the child in her house and holding her hostage at gunpoint for four hours, and after an attempted suicide, he was denied child visitation.

Danell had considered going to her parents, where she had already sent her child. However, there was every chance that if she did that, even more people would be at risk.

So Danell did everything she could to protect herself. Even though she had served in the army, she also took self-defense courses. She was applying for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

She had a knife in her hand when Alex attacked her the evening of Dec. 8, as she was leaving the university where she worked. She was able to cut him, but was not able to save her life. He had stolen a gun from the people he was staying with and shot her twice and himself once. They both died that same Friday night.

When told of the tragedy the child only said, "I knew he would do that." She has since cut her father out of family pictures.

Even while under the incredible strain of this abusive marriage, Danell had earned a college degree. She was working as a lab technician and was ambitious to continue her education. She had already overcome many obstacles in her life and was working on overcoming more.

She was a bright, outgoing woman who had made many friends -- and most of us couldn't understand why she was married to Alex.

Alex, on the other hand, was a self-proclaimed dittohead -- a fan of Rush Limbaugh's programs. That was the only thing I knew about him before he and Danell attended the first of several parties at our home. My husband was her science professor.

The week prior to their separation, my husband and I had been their guests for dinner. Everything seemed fine at the time -- as far as we could tell. Later that same night he tried to strangle her.

As they were separating, Danell stayed with us a few weeks. We worked together for a year, trying various strategies to keep her safe and alive.

Now she is dead, at age 28, and her hopes for the future are gone. The only thing that could have prevented this would have been for Alex to be locked up permanently.

Danell's case is not even that unusual. Every day in the United States women are beaten or die at the hands of the men who supposedly love them.

A local judge who was familiar with Danell's case told me he would try to do something "to make Danell's death mean something." A month later I appeared before him with another woman accusing her batterer. His attorney entered a "prayer for judgment continued," which means you're found guilty but if you behave for a set period of time (typically one to three years), the offense will not go on your record.

The judge granted the request, but ordered the defendant to exit through the back door of the courtroom. So that judge's way of honoring a murdered woman's memory was to give another abuser a prayer for judgment continued and to give his victim a head start out of the courtroom.

Editor's Note: Danell Hernandez was a member of Fayetteville NOW. Roberta Waddle is a chapter activist and former state coordinator of North Carolina NOW.

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