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On Aug. 7 of this year, Tyesha Wayne, 40, of Sahuarita, Ariz., shot and killed her boyfriend in what she and her advocates attest was self-defense. The Pima County attorney’s office sees it differently, charging Wayne with 2nd-degree murder and initially setting her bond at $1 million.
Wayne joins the scores of survivors who have faced or served prison time for defending themselves against abusers. Women like Nikki Addimando who shot and killed her abusive boyfriend in 2017 after years of enduring his sexual and physical abuse, only to be sentenced to 17 years in prison. Her sentence was eventually reduced to seven and a half years and she’ll be released in 2024. Or Kim Dadou Brown who served 17 years for fatally shooting her abusive boyfriend as he tried to strangle her to death. Since her release, she has become an advocate for other arrested survivors. Or Marissa Alexander who served three years in jail after firing a warning shot into a wall near her abusive husband after a violent encounter as she was trying to leave him.
According to the ACLU, men who murder a female partner are sentenced on average between two and six years in prison. Women who kill their male partners, often in self-defense, receive an average of 15 years behind bars. Alliance for HOPE International President and former prosecutor, Casey Gwinn, says when survivors have no choice but to kill an abuser, it is usually evidence that the system has failed to hold the abuser accountable for prior violence.
“When victims of domestic violence get so desperate that they see no way out but to kill an abuser, this is a sad statement about our culture’s failure to hold rage-filled abusers accountable for their violence before a death results,” says Gwinn.
On that August morning, Wayne told detectives she had followed her partner, Daniel Walker, 26, to the garage to say goodbye for the day when the two got in an argument. She says this is when Walker struck her with his motorcycle helmet. He told Wayne he was sick of her before shoving her from behind, causing her face to strike a door. At that point, Wayne says her boyfriend grabbed her, began throwing her around and would not let her go. She was able to reach a pistol and point it at Walker demanding he leave her alone. The two struggled with the gun before Wayne fired it multiple times toward Walker, who died at the scene after paramedics arrived.
Gwinn says that victims of domestic violence have a right to use deadly force when faced with deadly force. “Strangulation is deadly force. Police officers can shoot criminal suspects who strangle them because they are defending their lives. When we evaluate cases, we always have to ask if deadly force was used against a person before they responded with deadly force. Defending yourself is not murder; it is self-defense.”
The incident precedes a lengthy history of domestic violence at the hands of Walker during which time Wayne spent several months at Emerge, a domestic violence shelter in Tucson. With Wayne’s permission, Anna Harper, the executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Emerge, spoke with DomesticShelters.org on Wayne’s behalf.
“It's a tragedy that a life was lost, and I don’t take that lightly,” says Harper. “But a coordinated community response failed a victim and also criminalized that same victim. Tyesha was beaten significantly. The state has charged her with first degree murder, and I cannot process that. What was the premeditation that she had planned this murder?”
A History of Abuse
Harper says that prior to Wayne coming to Emerge, there was an incident last November in which Walker strangled his girlfriend.
“What she shared was that she had lost consciousness, and he had called law enforcement. By the time they arrived, she had regained consciousness,” says Harper. Walker told police he had put his girlfriend in a chokehold to calm her down.
“He admitted he knew how dangerous a chokehold was, so he says he didn’t do it that hard,” says Harper. However, Wayne lost control of her bladder during the strangulation, even showing police where that had occurred. Studies show that loss of bladder control can happen after around 15 seconds of decreased oxygen levels and after unconsciousness. It takes as little as seven seconds to lose consciousness. Strangulation, or a decrease of oxygen flow to the brain by any means, can cause permanent brain damage. Strangulation is also a lethality indicator. A study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine found that women who survive strangulation by their partner are seven times more likely to be the victim of an attempted homicide and are 750% more likely to be a victim of homicide.
Gwinn conducts trainings across the country on strangulation assaults. He says unconsciousness followed by urination or defecation means that Wayne nearly died during her partner’s abuse.
“When there’s urination after unconsciousness it means the victim’s central autonomic nervous system is shutting down. This happens right before death. That is how close a victim is to death if she involuntarily urinates while unconscious,” says Gwinn.
After she was strangled by Walker, Harper says a police officer minimized the effects.
“The officer looked at [Wayne] and said, ‘I don’t see any injuries.’” Wayne also reported that the officer had her look in the mirror and asked her, “Do you see any injuries?”
“We know this is not the way to properly document an incident of strangulation,” says Harper. In the police report viewed by DomesticShelters.org, the officer wrote that “due to the color of her skin” he couldn’t tell if Wayne had any visible marks on her neck, something Harper suspects refers to the fact that Wayne is Black.
EMTs on scene also reported to officers that they “did not observe any signs or symptoms that would indicate strangulation.”
“In our county, we have a strangulation protocol that outlines the signs and symptoms of strangulation and guides them to contact a supervisor who’s been properly trained to decide if the victim needs to go to the hospital to receive a forensic exam. Because we know, in strangulation, there are not often visible injuries,” says Harper. DomesticShelters.org reviewed a copy of that strangulation protocol for Pima County. In it, law enforcement is advised to request a forensic exam following a strangulation in which, among other things, the victim reports loss of consciousness and urination occurred.
The Sahuarita Police Department did not respond to our request for comment.
Gael Strack, founder of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, says visible injuries after strangulation are not a given. “You can strangle someone to death with no visible injuries, which means you can strangle someone almost to death with no visible injuries.”
Even without visible marks, strangulation can lead to serious, long-term health consequences and in some cases, even death days or weeks later.
“That moment in time set the trajectory for Tyesha,” says Harper. “She learned that if she called for help, no one was going to believe her. The most dangerous part of it all reinforced for him that he could do those things without consequence and that she could get arrested for it.”
Bail Set at $1 Million
From court transcripts DomesticShelters.org reviewed of Wayne’s bail hearing in September, the state’s representative, Joseph Ricks, called Walker’s death “a violent murder” and requested a $1 million bond.
Walker’s mother, Willa Linee Vanhook-Walker also gave a statement to the judge, saying, “I know my son is of good character.” She stated that she believed her son was a victim of “male domestic violence.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Beall, one of Wayne’s attorney’s, told the judge that Wayne was “a victim of a severe, violent and brutal beating by Daniel Walker….She told the police over and over that Daniel Walker would not let her go; that she was fighting for her life.” Beall also argued against the claim of premeditation. “The idea that this was premeditated boggles my mind. What is it, that you wait for somebody to beat you within an inch of your life so you can shoot him? Where is the premeditation?”
The judge ultimately lowered Wayne’s bail to $150,000 at the hearing, which local advocacy groups and community members raised in order to free Wayne until her trial. Wayne is a mother to three children, ages 11, 13 and 23. The two younger children have been placed in a group home since Wayne’s arrest. Harper says that while Wayne has been allowed to visit with them, being separated has been the hardest part for her so far.
“She’s hurt about her children not being with her. I think that she is also in disbelief that this is happening to her and that the state is charging her with the crimes that they are,” says Harper.
But she also knows Wayne has been bolstered by the community support she’s received.
“The pressure being applied by the community gives a loud and clear message that this is wrong, and that means a lot to her. But at the same time, she’s fighting for her life. Every court hearing …is this really horrific traumatizing event.”
Like so many survivors, Wayne likely knows she will be scrutinized as to whether or not she fits a “perfect victim” stereotype.
“I think Black women are thought of as being able to handle pain at some superhuman level,” says Harper. “There’s some sort of expectation that she needs to maintain her dignity and composure, even though she’s experiencing tremendous amounts of grief, and deserves to feel that.”
Harper also sees the risk her nonprofit takes by speaking out on Wayne’s case.
“Part of our advocacy is to highlight how the failures of a community to understand the risk of domestic violence is directly tied to the individual experiences a person has. When law enforcement isn’t trained properly, people’s lives are greatly impacted. Our work is to keep making that connection and put entire communities on the hook for what is happening to individuals.”
Even though she sees a target on her back, Harper says she won’t stop until she has answers.
“Tyesha’s life matters. Her story matters. Every survivor’s story matters.”
Wayne’s next court date is on December 19.
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