Thursday, September 23, 2010

Banking on Murder

By Susan Murphy Milano

On May 10, 2010, Tim Lowrey begged the Mobile, Alabama, city and district attorneys to help his girlfriend, Wendy Stevens, and for them to arrest her estranged husband, Michael Berry. Lowrey asked, “Why hasn’t the judge signed the order on the felony charge so your guys can arrest Berry?” The district attorney responded, “Not to worry. They have it under control, and he will be taken into custody on Wednesday when he shows up for his court date regarding visitation for the kids.”

Lowrey persisted. “He is going to kill her, he is obsessed with Wendy," he pleaded with the D.A. "You have to do something now. If you don’t, she will die.” He continued with the city and state for another three hours, going through the lengthy documentation of almost daily police reports, stalking, prior documented and sustained injuries, hospital reports, hundreds of threatening text messages, e-mails, and the permanent order of protection. But it was useless. The state felt that Michael Berry, a part-time postal worker, "didn’t pose that much of a danger.” Lowrey was relentless and would not back down -- until he was finally asked to leave.

Tim was preparing to leave early the next morning for a job assignment out of state and wouldn’t be back until the weekend. He did not want to leave Wendy and her children, now under his roof, knowing that Michael Berry was a ticking time bomb. He asked Wendy to be careful, thinking that the daily calls for help and police reports were only flaming Michael Berry’s violent temper.

The next day Tim left and Wendy Stevens cautiously went about her day. After work, she picked up her kids and at 6:45 p.m. was at a drive-thru ATM, with her four children in the car, when five rounds of gunfire blasted into the SUV, killing the 36-year-old mother from Mobile. Immediately after the shooting, an all-points bulletin was issued for the now-armed and dangerous Berry. He was apprehended and charged the following day with Wendy's murder and held on $500,000 bond.

Tim Lowrey was in Michigan when Wendy’s stepfather called with the news that she was dead, immediately followed with, “Why the hell didn’t you protect her?” Her immediate family was angry with Tim for not doing more to keep her alive. I have a news flash for Wendy’s family; the system failed her, not Tim Lowrey. The children have all been separated and are living with relatives in various parts of the county. They will be forever scarred by this single, life-altering event. Four children witnessed the cold-blooded murder of their mother, and that vision is literally tattooed inside of them for the remainder of their days on earth. The repeated memory of these children will be of being helpless and watching as Mommy is shot, bullets entering her body with lightning speed, while buckled-up in her seat, slumped over the steering wheel. It is the last picture and memory they will have of their Mother.

In my opinion, no amount of therapy will prepare them for their life's journey. The months ahead will be cruel as they attempt to get through a single day without reliving this nightmare. The news coverage of this case will go on for months and perhaps years.

We don’t often hear, after the fact, when someone is killed as a result of intimate partner homicide, about those who did everything in their power, almost getting themselves arrested, to help save a life. After personally reviewing copies of the original case file, I am outraged! The blood of Wendy Stevens is literally dripping from the chairs onto the floors of both the city and state attorney’s desk. They killed her as sure as Michael Berry emptied his illegal firearm into her that day.

This is not the last you will hear of this case, nor of Tim Lowery. Tune in at 9 p.m. EST, Monday, September 27, 2010 to Intimate Partner Homicide for the rest of the facts about this case.

Case Overview: Wendy Stevens filed for divorce in January 2010 and had gotten a court order of protection against her estranged husband who was, according to the judge's order, violent and stalking her. On Tuesday, May 11, 2010, after he allegedly killed Wendy, Berry fled the crime scene. On Wednesday, he was arrested and charged with her murder. That same morning, he had been scheduled to appear in court for violating the protective order.


Kathleen A. Ryan said...

What a sad story. My heart breaks for Tim, Wendy's children and her family. Unfortunately, the anger of Wendy's stepfather was misdirected at Tim, who desperately tried to protect Wendy and her children. In Suffolk County, Long Island, where I was a police officer for 21 years, a tragedy of huge proportions occurred when three women, all with orders of protection, were killed by their husbands (who then committed suicide) within a two-week period in late '88 into early '89 (see: It was surreal. It forever changed the way domestic violence policies were handled.

In the infamous O.J. Simpson case, I'll never get over hearing a juror say during an interview afterward, "That domestic violence stuff belonged in another court."

Leah said...

Unless and until women are allowed to protect themselves, nothing is going to change. Judges think that women are merely over reacting when they seek protection orders. They don't understand the magnitude of danger we are in because they've never had the hell beat out of them by a partner. Time and time again. Never mind about the verbal & psychological abuse. They just don't get it. I don't believe they ever will.

In this case, as with so many others, I don't believe the protection order would have prevented her death. He'd have killed her regardless. So, it should go without saying, that protection orders are the wrong means of solving this problem. They don't work. Why doesn't anybody get that??

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of these cases, by now judges and district attorneys would of acted immediately. Is this because this was family court and not criminal? Protection orders are merely pieces of papers that cannot stop the REAL physical harm or death.

Story Teller said...

I feel so sorry for Tim. He did everything he could to protect her, but even without the ignorant reaction of Wendy's stepfather, he must suffer from horrible guilt. (Not that he should, but he probably asks himself - why didn't I stay? Why didn't I insist she come with me?)

I agree that the justice system really has to change. Protection orders don't work, and often heighten an already volatile situation.

I wish someone had listened to Tim before it was too late for Wendy. Those poor kids!

Anonymous said...

A very well-written and very sad accounting of
when the powers-that-be turn their heads. Where's the hope for these children? I will keep them in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Such a sad story. I remember the night it happened my granddaughter ran into my room saying a woman was gunned down not far from our home. The look on her face was fear. She thought of her own mother. How horrible. What she had feared for her mom had come true for 4 other children. She still fears this might one day be her. I do too.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a horrible tragedy for all involved, but it is not the fault of the city or state workers. Their hands were tied. Unfortunately, in this state the police can not arrest someone unless some action has been taken and then it is too late. This is the way the legislation is written. Laws regarding domestic violence crimes must be changed.

cheryl said...

Thirteen years ago my now ex-husband tried to murder me. We were separated at the time and the assault came out of nowhere. He'd been verbally abusive but no physical abuse.
At the PD that evening, I asked for an order of protection. The cops called in a judge, who came to the PD in his pajamas. He seemed royally po'd. The police were very vigilant and sympathetic, but this judge only seemed to care about the fact that both my husband and I were "professional" people and not "blue collar brawlers" as he put it.
The judge grudgingly gave me the protection order. Two black eyes, choke marks, half the hair missing off my head and 2 broken fingers plus my testimony of what happened should have been enough.
And after all that, the protection order didn't work too well. The ex would call my house (I never knew how he got my unlisted number) and play 'Come As You Are' by Nirvana, at the part where Kobain sings "I don't have a gun, I swear I don't have a gun".
This tragedy could have been averted. Orders of protection need to be taken seriously. This makes me so ill.

Soobs said...

Still wondering when law enforcement (or judges) will realize these are VIOLENT assaults, and not "domestic" assaults. Why don't they take it seriously, especially if it comes from someone who used to love you?

Anonymous said...

Accused Killer Stephen Nodine is out at Best Buy. He's a dangerous drug addict charged with a federal felony and MURDER yet he's out on the town. What's up Mobile, AL?? Don't you believe in JUSTICE?
Wendy Stevens didn't get it. She's not the first or last to be sacrificed because of a poorly run system.

Anonymous said...

I've know Mrs. Wendy for atleast 8 years and been friends with her kids for that long too. After I heard that Mike and Mrs. Wendy were getting divorced my friend and I were alarmed. Mike was always wierd, and gave off a vibe that was strange. What made this all worse is that everyday I got off the bus with other kids Mike's truck was in our neighborhood (I lived in her neighborhood) and he was always just lurking around. He tried to rent a house in the neighborhood just down the road from Mrs. Wendy. This is a very small neighborhood. He was not far AT ALL. But those plans fell through. I didn't know how bad it was until after she was killed. He stalked, and harassed her, and could've been a threat to me and the other neighborhood kids who were always around Mrs. Wendy's house. I'm pretty sure the court system knew this, and didn't do anything. It pisses me off so bad knowing they didn't do a damn thing to help her. Everyone was upset. I couldn't sleep right for weeks. Everytime I pass her house I teared up. If me and her kids friends are emotionally scarred too, imagine how the kids feel???? This was so avoidable. But, no. They were too lazy to do anything.

Leah said...

That is horrible Cheryl. Your husband should have been jailed on the spot.

I worked a domestic violence docket in MOntgomery, AL for a year in the mid 90s. What I learned from that is shocking. Most people don't want to hear this but the truth is that 95% of the women/victims who came through there were NOT in danger of losing their lives. They were people who were taught as children that it is ok and normal to slap each other around from time to time. Most of them were repeat offenders and many perps were pissed off women. These couples often came into court arguing. I am not trying to minimize anything because these people really do need help changing this aspect of their lives.

We saw aywhere from 12 to 20 cases a week, 40 -45 weeks per year. In that years time maybe half a dozen of them were seriously in danger of losing their life. And you could spot them a mile away. I could read the file and police report and pick them out because they were nearly identical. Nobody in the home or family were the ones to report it - always a friend or coworker because friends and family members were afraid of the perp well. The women always either denied anything happened, minimized it out just totally wouldn't talk. The same thing happened when they got in front of the judge. Typically mousy women, they were barely audible, while trying to protect their abuseers and the abusers were the ones doing most of the talking.

I believe that most women in danger of lying at the hands of their spouse never even see the inside of a domestic violence courtroom. That thought is chilling because we know it exists but because it is such an isolating disease/problem it is difficult to detect and prove. And besides all that, we don't even have a decent and effective remedy for the problem.

cheryl said...

Leah, my husband was arrested that night, but he was soon bailed out. I knew he would be, which is why I requested the protection order.
When I went to the hearing which would make the order permanent (because a temporary order was issued the night he attacked me) there were over a dozen other women there who asked that the order be lifted. The judge pointed out to these women that for some of them, it was their 3rd and 4th times in his courtroom...These women left arm in arm with their alleged abusers.
I don't know what the specific domestic abuse policies were in Mobile at the time of Wendy's death, but I didn't have to press charges against my husband. It was the police dept. that pressed charges. Which I am glad of, because my ex's Mother called me and asked me to drop the charges against him. I had a good relationship with her and felt pressured, but I could truthfully tell her that the police were the ones she had to call.