For 11 days this summer, Tierne Ewing was tortured by her husband.
Kevin Ewing kidnapped her, beat her, locked her in a closet, hit her in the head with a pistol, strangled her, burned her with a hot stick and made her sleep with a rope around her neck, according to Pennsylvania law enforcement. More than once, he put her in the bathtub and pointed a gun at her, threatening to kill them both.
On July 8, she managed to escape when Kevin allowed her to enter a bank. She was hysterical, and begged the bank tellers to call the police. After law enforcement arrived, she was too frightened to leave the building, telling them, “I don’t want to die.”
Kevin was arrested the same day and charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, unlawful possession of a firearm and other crimes. Less than two months later, while released on a $100,000 bond, he kidnapped his estranged wife again.
This time, he followed through on his threats.
On Aug. 30, Tierne was found shot to death in a barn. Her husband also shot himself in the head. Her death is now raising questions about what authorities in Washington County could have done differently.
District Attorney Eugene Vittone, who called Tierne’s murder a possibly “preventable tragedy,” told The Huffington Post that he has begun an investigation into what went wrong.
“We are trying to get all the facts and see where the system may be improved,” he said. “We probably need to take a look at how we address bail in these types of cases.”
While it’s impossible to predict every domestic violence case that turns lethal, experts believe that there are critical warning signs that can indicate when a case is especially dangerous and needs special monitoring.
Decades of research by Jacquelyn Campbell, a leading expert in domestic homicide, has helped to identify important risk factors for lethality, which include abusers’ access to firearms, previous strangulation attempts and death threats.
Her work has been distilled into an 11-question screening tool that a growing number of police departments across the country are now using to identify domestic violence victims who are at the greatest risk of being killed.
Tierne had almost all the signs of a woman in extreme danger.
She had been previously strangled, which made her seven times more likely to be killed by her abuser. Her husband owned guns, making her five times more likely to end up dead. He had threatened to kill her and himself. And she believed that he was capable of murder.
“I totally agree that it was preventable, because it was so predictable,” said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “When you read down the list, this screams out for some kind of heightened safety measures for this victim.”
The case brought her to tears, she said.
Some police departments in Pennsylvania currently screen victims for risk of lethality, but the practice is not yet widespread.
PCADV has also created a fact sheet for judges on lethality factors, Kramer said, with the hope that courts will use it when assessing the danger that domestic violence offenders pose to their victims.
“If we are going to do something to prevent domestic violence homicides, communities have to come together in a much more meaningful way and understand lethality, and do a much better job at making sure that abusers like this guy don’t fall through the cracks,” she said. “My greatest hope is that Washington County can take a look at this, and learn something from it, make the changes that may be in order, and then share what they learned.”
Kevin posted bond after spending three days behind bars.
When the prosecutor handling the case, assistant district attorney Kristen Clingerman, found out he had been released from jail, she immediately asked the judge to increase his bail because of his history of domestic violence.
Tierne told Clingerman that if her husband was free, she was going to die.
“I had a really bad feeling,” Clingerman said. “In my heart, I knew that there was not going to be a good result. All the signs were there that this could be a fatality.”
While a judge denied her request for a bail increase, he agreed to some modifications that she asked for, including that the defendant have no contact with his wife, relinquish all weapons and wear an ankle bracelet that would alert authorities if he left the home. On the day he killed his wife, he cut it off.
Clingerman said that she did everything she could to keep Tierne safe.
“I wish that other people, whether they are lay people, family, law enforcement, would understand that domestic violence is so serious and so lethal,” she said. “If the defendant would have kidnapped a stranger off the street, and burned her and beat her and strangled her, I wonder what his bond would have been then.”
Between 2005 and 2015, at least 1,676 people in Pennsylvania were killed as a result of domestic violence, according to PCADV.
Most of the victims were female domestic violence victims, but that number also includes children, law enforcement, friends, coworkers, passersby, and perpetrators who killed themselves or were killed by law enforcement.
Tierne’s death was not the first high profile domestic violence shooting in Pennsylvania this summer. Just last month, a man killed his wife and three kids on the day she had planned to move out.