Protections questioned in Titus death Brother sees 'failure' of domestic violence system's procedures

Bail availability an issue

Counseling agency said it saw no sign of dangerous situation

June 08, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The killing last week of a Hampstead woman, the apparent victim of domestic violence, has local authorities reviewing procedures and questioning whether more could have been done.

Members of Patricia A. Titus' family say the system clearly failed the 40-year-old mother of two boys, Tyler, 2, and Taylor, 11 months.

They blame the courts, police and family protective service agencies for failing to act swiftly in putting a halt to harassment and threats by her husband that began more than 18 months ago.

But local authorities say that under Maryland law, proper procedure was followed.

Guidelines for granting bail to accused abusers, however, might need to be strengthened, according to some who deal with domestic violence cases.

"You always hope you could have done more to help in cases like this," State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said. "This was a very unfortunate situation, so you hope you can learn from it."

The victim's estranged husband, John T. Titus, 33, was formally charged with first-degree murder yesterday after his release from Carroll County General Hospital, where he had been treated for a possible drug overdose.

He had been hospitalized under armed guard since Monday when police found him unconscious in the bathtub at Mrs. Titus' home.

Minutes after finding Mr. Titus, police -- who had been called by Baltimore fire officials after an anonymous request for an ambulance to be sent to the house -- found his wife's body in a bedroom closet at her home in the 4400 block of Utz Road.

State medical examiners determined that she had been strangled between May 27 and Monday.

The children were found asleep in the house and were turned over to the Department of Social Services.

They should soon be placed with relatives, according to John P. Biglin, Mrs. Titus' younger brother.

Biglin, one of nine children of Dr. Ronald J. and Muriel G. Warnasch Biglin of Montclair, N.J., is convinced of what happened: "The system failed her."

"The situation [for my sister] has been escalating for a long time," Biglin said.

"It's well documented in court records. [Mr. Titus] has had a long-term problem with alcohol and drug abuse, and with domestic violence.

"The telltale signs were all there, but the system failed. They could never keep him locked up."

Protection sought

Biglin said that his sister had married Mr. Titus in 1994 and that she had sought court protection from her husband in 1995 and 1996.

Mrs. Titus filed a petition for a temporary protective order in December 1995.

But she failed to appear in court in January 1996 to persuade Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. to order her husband to have no contact with her for up to 200 days, the maximum duration allowed by state law.

Barnes said the judge went out of his way, speaking with Mrs. Titus on the telephone, before dismissing her petition.

"All the Carroll County judges -- three in Circuit Court and two in District Court -- are very conscientious about domestic violence cases," said Barnes.

"I've seen them drop what they were doing to hear an ex parte petition immediately."

Victims told rights

Neither Burns nor District Judge Marc G. Rasinsky, both of whom have handled protective order petitions from Mrs. Titus, was available for comment.

Court records show that Mr. Titus was arrested in April on charges of assault and violating a protective order, signed in January and in effect until July 25.

Barnes said Mrs. Titus had come to his office May 22 for an interview, a preliminary step before testifying against her husband at a hearing scheduled for June 19.

Shirley Haas, director of Carroll's Victim Witness Assistance Unit in the state's attorney's office, declined to discuss the Titus case.

"Generally speaking, victims of domestic violence are interviewed by a family-violence caseworker, told what their rights are and given information about all the services available to them, including protection," Haas said.

"We certainly had no sense or feeling that the situation at home for Mrs. Titus had deteriorated to a dangerous point," said Barnes.

Barnes said a county Domestic Violence Task Force meets regularly to discuss ways to improve services provided to battered spouses.

'No-drop' policy

"The judges support our 'no-drop' policy," said Barnes, referring to his office's practice of prosecuting domestic violence cases even if the victim decides she (or he) wants to withdraw charges.

Professionals in domestic violence work say it is common for victims to file charges, then seek to drop them rather than face going to court.

"All you can do is follow the victims' situations and work closely with them to provide the support they need to go through with prosecution," Barnes said.

For whatever reason, Mrs. Titus did not follow through after seeking the first protective order against her husband.

However, she appeared ready to testify at the hearing scheduled for June 19.

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