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'That's not normal': Domestic violence deaths increase 62% over last two years

Victim's mother: 'It's unimaginable'
Investigators determined Jessica England was killed in Sept. 2020 by her former boyfriend Billy Waters
Posted at 8:14 PM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 22:27:32-04

NORWOOD, OH — Roberta Keaton said the phone call brought her to her knees.

"I just kind of slid to the floor crying," Keaton recalled.

Keaton said that call on Sept. 2, 2020 broke the news to her family that Keaton's daughter, Jessica England, had been shot and killed in her basement.

Roberta Keaton in Sept. 2020
Roberta Keaton in Sept. 2020

England's 6-year-old son was upstairs during the shooting, Keaton said.

Norwood police say the 7-year-old friend of England's son discovered her body.

"He went to look through the house for her and found her in the basement on the floor with a bullet in her head," Keaton said.

Norwood police also found the body of England's former boyfriend, Billy Waters, in the basement, according to police records.

Waters was the father of England's son.

Billy Waters and Jessica England
Billy Waters and Jessica England

Coroner's death reports determined Waters had died by suicide. Investigators ruled England's death a homicide.

"Domestic violence-related fatalities were up 20% last year," said Micalea Deming, Policy Director for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.

On Tuesday, the group released a report showing 131 people died the previous year as a result of domestic violence in Ohio.

That's a 62% increase in deaths over the last two years, Deming said.

In 22 cases, there was a murder and a suicide.

Eighteen percent of those cases occurred with children at the scene, according to the report.

"Our domestic violence shelters and programs stayed open throughout the pandemic, but they noted that by the time folks were getting to their program, they were seeing a higher level of physical violence and injury," Deming said. "And they were seeing more strangulation."

Micaela Deming
Micaela Deming

Special units of police and prosecutors in the Tri-State focus on domestic violence cases.

The WCPO 9 I-Team's review of Hamilton County court records shows prosecutors have filed nearly 1,500 domestic violence charges in 2021, a slight increase over the same period in 2020.

In some recent cases, municipal judges released defendants on their own recognizance, even though victims accused the defendants of repeatedly punching them in the face or choking them.

In nearly all cases examined by the I-Team, defendants got out of jail by posting $1,000 or less.

Since domestic violence is a misdemeanor in Ohio, Deming said judges can't detain those defendants.

Ohio House Bill 3 would make strangulation a felony. And that would allow judges to detain defendants charged with strangling, a potentially deadly act that should be a felony, Deming said.

Waters was never charged with domestic violence against England.

Ashtin Walker and Jessica
Ashtin Walker and Jessica England

But, according to England's longtime friend, Ashtin Walker, England's "volatile relationship" with Waters got worse as a result of hardships during the pandemic.

At a funeral in August, 2020, "Jessica's casually telling me that they got into a fistfight that morning," Waters said. "I said, 'Jessica, that's not normal.'"

Walker said even though England took up for herself and was committed to protecting her son, England didn't seek help and had accepted violence as part of her relationship with Waters.

"People try not to think about things," Keaton said. "But when it's this close to home, you have no choice."

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