Verdict eased for battered city woman Shooting trial ends in assault conviction

August 06, 1991|By Brian Sullam John Rivera of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

A Baltimore woman standing trial on charges of first-degree attempted murder in the shooting and wounding of her boyfriend was found guilty of lesser charges yesterday after testimony that she was abused by him.

Victoria Everette, 33, a resident of the Reservoir Hill area south of Druid Hill Park, was found guilty of assault and a handgun violation by a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury after 9 1/2 hours of deliberation over two days.

The jury of 10 women and two men was considering a relatively new defense in such cases: that she was suffering from battered women's syndrome.

Everette told the court that her boyfriend, Michael Alston, 34, beat her up before she shot him in the back four times Jan. 20, 1990.

Howard Cardin, who represented Everette, argued that Mr. Alston abused her regularly during their long relationship.

Because Everette had admitted shooting Mr. Alston, Mr. Cardin said after the verdict, "the only justification that we could offer was the battered spouse syndrome."

He said he was pleased with the outcome.

The prosecutor, Sharon Holback, had no comment.

The syndrome, which has only been recently defined by social scientists, explains the behavior of women who are physically, psychologically and emotionally abused.

Typically, the women -- who are not necessarily married -- are said to feel helplessly trapped in abusive relationships and at some point react suddenly with violence against their mates.

Beginning July 1, under a new provision of Maryland's judicial proceeding code that Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed into law this spring, expert testimony on "battered spouse syndrome" may be admitted as evidence in Maryland trials.

Such testimony is designed to show the state of mind or motive of women who are accused of murdering or assaulting their husbands or lovers after a long history of beatings.

Proof that a defendant has suffered from the battered women's syndrome is not, however, intended to assure acquittal in assault and murder cases.

After being beaten that January night last year, Everette felt her only course of action was to shoot Mr. Alston, Mr. Cardin argued in his closing arguments.

"If somebody is being beaten to death, they respond," he said. "She was in imminent danger of bodily harm. . . . She was battered and abused by her lover, Michael Alston."

As it turns out, Mr. Alston very closely fits the profile of a typical batterer, who often is a criminal who readily resorts to violence to deal with personal problems.

Mr. Alston had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter and armed robbery and served about 12 years in prison.

There was testimony that Mr. Alston talked about killing a man.

The evidence to support the contention Everette was battered came primarily from her own testimony and testimony from Janet Jackson, the associate director of the House of Ruth, who interviewed Everette 16 months after she shot Mr. Alston.

Ms. Jackson said Everette told her Mr. Alston had slapped her around, kept her isolated in his mother's apartment, forced her to engage in unwanted sexual acts and hit her with his fists on a regular basis.

Mr. Cardin introduced a medical report showing that Everette suffered a cut lip requiring stitches and numerous bruises, bumps and cuts during a fight after she changed the locks at Mr. Alston's apartment in September 1988.

Sentencing of Everette was set for Sept. 20.

She faces a maximum of three years in prison for the handgun violation.

Sentences for assault in Maryland vary widely.

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