February 11, 2012
Adrienne Knopp

Advocating For 'Battered Women Who Kill'

Patricia Harrison, J.D., assistant clinical professor of law, and other members of the Missouri Clemency Coalition Project will participate in a symposium, "Battered Women Who Kill," sponsored by the School of Law's Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Law and the School of Law's Legal Clinics. The symposium takes place from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at the William H. Kniep Courtroom in Morrissey Hall. For more information, visit the symposium's web page.

In this Faculty Profile featured in the School of Law's Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Law January 2012 newsletter, Harrison discusses her experience representing a victim of abuse through the Coalition Project.

Patricia Harrison, J.D.
Patricia Harrison works with the Missouri Clemency Coalition Project, a group of lawyers and law students who work to help battered women charged with crimes against their abusers. File photo

I'll never forget Sept.13, 2010. Those of us involved with the Missouri Clemency Coalition Project (MCCP) had been waiting to hear the decision of the parole board concerning our clients' potential release from prison. Vicki Williams and Carlene Borden had been incarcerated for more than thirty years for the murders of their abusive husbands. Ruby Jamerson had served more than twenty years for the same crime. I finally got a call from Amy Lorenz-Moser, a fellow attorney, who had news.

"Are you sitting down?" she asked.

As my stomach lurched and my heart raced, I thought, "Oh no, bad news again." I should have been used to it by now; we had lost our first two hearings. Lorenz-Moser's news was music to my ears.

"Vicki and Carlene are getting out next month."

I was delighted, but I wanted to know about Ruby, she was the woman my students and I had been visiting at the Women's Eastern Correctional Center at Vandalia for more than three years.

"What about Ruby?" I asked. "She is getting out, but not until 2013." She's getting out! Ruby would actually leave prison. The last of the women from the MCCP would be going home to her family. Amazing.

The journey to free the final three was long and hard. When I entered the project in 2007, I thought it would be easy. All of the women had exemplary institutional behavior, no prior record, excellent work history in and out of prison and strong family support. Most significantly, all had suffered years of torture at the hands of their husbands; they had not been allowed to present evidence of their abuse to the jury.

When I first became involved, I assumed that the parole hearings would be a formality. The abuse they suffered was horrific and was supported by letters and affidavits of witnesses to the injuries or incidents of abuse. The reality was different from what I had imagined: two parole denials, two Writ of Mandamus victories and finally success on the third try.

On Feb. 17, the Legal Clinic and the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Law will hold a Symposium that will showcase the work of MCCP and will provide a forum for scholars to talk about domestic violence from a variety of perspectives. Several psychologists will discuss the importance of educating lawmakers, judges and jurors on "battered woman syndrome." This syndrome occurs as a result of a cycle of severe physical and psychological abuse followed by reconciliation, and it often results in victims losing all sense of empowerment. The cycle of abuse can also end in isolation, as a woman's friends and family become increasingly frustrated and eventually withdraw.

In addition to psychologists, the symposium will feature experts and professionals in several other fields. A filmmaker will discuss her work in creating a film featuring women helped through the MCCP, called "Battered Women Who Kill." Stephen Deere and J.B. Forbes from the St. Louis Post Dispatch will share the story of the newspaper's coverage of events surrounding the incarceration, during and after our representation.

My work with Missouri Clemency Coalition opened my eyes to the importance of interdisciplinary advocacy. The accomplishments of the MCCP showcases the way in which academics and professionals from different disciplines can come together to achieve the kind of success that would not have been possible employing a single perspective.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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