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Report: Tennessee is third worst in U.S.

1:19 PM, Nov 5, 2012   |    comments
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Brian Haas, The Tennessean

Even Demeko Duckworth's own attorney acknowledged that he was "a man who did not have much regard for human life."

Those words by Nashville Assistant Public Defender Melissa Harrison described Duckworth as he was sentenced to 108 years in prison in March for the murder of his girlfriend, Asia Wade, and Wade's cousin, Clarence Goins. And her words captured the brutality of Wade's demise. He stabbed her 49 times, strangled her and then left her to die in her Nashville home.

Her four children - the oldest was 9 - were home when she was killed.

Her death in 2010 was one of at least 62 chronicled by the Violence Policy Center earlier this fall, putting Tennessee as third in the nation for the rate at which women are killed by men. The report marks the state's worst showing in more than a decade.

Tennessee has been in the top 10 every year going back to 2001 with the exception of the 2009 report.

Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, said repeat showings in the top 5 and 10 indicate real problems, though it's unclear exactly why that's the case.

"It tells you that it's not a fluke, that there's definitely a problem," she said. "If you're in the top 10 repeatedly, it shows the absolute need to prioritize and identify what can be effective prevention strategies."

Gov. Bill Haslam cited last year's Violence Policy Center report, which ranked Tennessee fifth in the nation, as part of the impetus for his public safety plan. A part of that plan included mandatory jail sentences of at least 30 days for a second conviction of domestic assault and at least 90 days for three or more convictions.

"One case of domestic violence in Tennessee is too many, and to be ranked near the top as one of the worst states for violence against women is unacceptable," said Dave Smith, spokesman for Haslam's office. "The coordinated efforts between the (public safety) working group continue as we work to make the state the best in the country to live, work and raise a family."
Three years in top 5

Tennessee's ranking in this year's Violence Policy Center report is its worst since the group began publicizing domestic violence homicides more than a decade ago. For the past three years, the state has been in the top 5, with homicide rates far outpacing most of the nation.

This year's report, which analyzes 2010 homicide data, includes the death of Shari Cartmell, who was shot in the head by her husband, former Metro police Officer Deon Cartmell. He told investigating detectives that she had shot herself. He's serving 18 years in prison in her death.

Then there was the case of Veronica Bozza, chased through her own Hermitage home and shot to death in a murder-for-hire plot hatched by her husband, Timothy Bozza. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 2060. The hit man, Coy Cotham Jr., was sentenced to life without parole.

Asia Wade, 30, was found murdered July 20, 2010, the same day Goins died after being shot on Hillside Avenue the prior night. Relatives, worried that Wade's children didn't make it to day care, found her body in the home and the children confused about why they hadn't been dressed.

Family members had to break into Wade's bedroom, where they found her dead.

Duckworth was on the lam for almost a week and at one point was one of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's most-wanted suspects before he surrendered on July 26 of that year. He was arrested, convicted and finally sentenced last spring.

After his sentence, Wade's mother, Janice Hill, said she was happy her daughter's killer was put to justice. But it didn't take away the pain she feels.

"I am happy about the judge's decision. I'm glad it's over. He won't be able to hurt nobody no more," Hill said. "But I cry every day - there is not a day that don't go by that I don't cry. It's really hard."

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