The Willingboro woman accused of beating her husband to death with a fire extinguisher last year had long suffered abuse at his hands and, more than once, sought refuge in a shelter to escape his wrath, her lawyer and family said.
Laciana Tinsley, charged in the murder of her husband, Douglas, fled several times to a Burlington County shelter for victims of domestic violence, they said.
In January of last year, Tinsley, 43, called 911 and told a police dispatcher through sobs that her 74-year-old husband was not moving and that she had repeatedly hit him with a fire extinguisher because he had tried to smother her with a pillow. She hit him again and again, she said, "because he kept trying to get up and come after me."
Tinsley's lawyer, Karen Thek, later told a judge that Tinsley, who has no criminal record, had left her husband several times because of abuse and had once gotten a restraining order against him.
"There was a long-standing history of domestic violence," Thek said. "She left the home several times, going into shelters, and would cycle back in and be living with him again."
Nicole Morella of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence said returning to an abusive relationship was not uncommon.
"Unfortunately, it's a common experience for domestic violence victims to return home," she said. "On average, a victim or survivor of abuse will leave seven times before they finally end a relationship."
But it's rare for a victim to kill the abuser, said Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "Quite frequently, if you have a situation that escalates to this point, it's usually the perpetrator that has killed the victim," she said.
When a victim kills an abuser, Glenn said, it can be difficult to prove self-defense.
"Oftentimes, because of the dynamics of domestic violence, the victim might not have killed in that perfect moment when she was in imminent danger. She might have waited and gotten so desperate and suicidal that the fear that 'if I don't kill him, he will kill me' has become very overwhelming and she may feel she has to do this right away," Glenn said.
Both Glenn and Morella said they were unfamiliar with the specifics of Tinsley's case and were speaking generally.
At Tinsley's bail hearing in February, court records show, Burlington County Court Judge Thomas P. Kelly listened as friends, family and members of Tinsley's church described her as "gentle, "kind" and "sweet."
Tinsley's son, Karel Rue, said she had never harmed anyone or done "anything bad" before.
The judge seemed skeptical as he denied bail.
"It kind of flies in the face of things that this is someone who would never hurt anyone, that the person is gentle, a sweet lady," he said. "… We have a dead person, and this probably was done in great anger. She struck him in the head numerous times."
Tinsley, the mother of three grown children, remains at the Atlantic County Jail, nearly a year after Kelly issued that ruling. He cited the seriousness of the Jan. 31 crime – purposeful murder – and the police account of the crime scene and Tinsley's admission that she had repeatedly struck her husband. The bludgeoning occurred shortly after 12 p.m.
Thek had urged the judge to place Tinsley on house arrest and presented witnesses who said they didn't consider her dangerous and promised to support her during her release.
But Assistant County Prosecutor Danny Ljungberg argued that none of the witnesses was present when the crime occurred and said Tinsley should be held in custody until trial. He acknowledged that Tinsley had suffered past abuse, but as for the crime, he said, "The truth is to be determined."
Thek said last week that Tinsley would undergo a pretrial psychological evaluation. She declined further comment, as did prosecutors.