Women protest treatment of domestic violence cases outside Circuit Court

People protest outside Carroll County Circuit Court over the Keith Edward Sluder case. (Heather Mongilio / Carroll County Times)

About six women gathered on a patch of grass outside Carroll County Circuit Court with signs protesting the court system's treatment of women in domestic violence situations.

The women came out Wednesday afternoon after hearing about the recent hearing of Keith Edward Sluder, who was found to be not criminally responsible for shooting his wife. He was released Monday.


Although the women were there as a result of the hearing, they were protesting more than that recent case, seeking to raise awareness of domestic violence and urge for it to be taken more seriously in the legal system in Carroll County, they said.

A New Windsor man who shot his wife in the neck in November 2014 was released from jail Monday morning after a Carroll County Circuit Court judge ruled he was not criminally responsible for his actions that night due to involuntary intoxication.

For most of the women, they were outside the court because of their own experiences, they said.

Four said they are victims of domestic violence. And when they went through the system, they said, they were treated poorly and, in some cases, treated as the abuser instead of the victim.

Sandy Bittinger said she showed up Wednesday because of the recent decision in the Sluder case. She also said that she was there because she had been in a domestic violence situation for 18 years.

She said she stayed in the relationship because of her daughter.

"A victim walks on eggshells every day," Bittinger said.

Mary Phillips, who was also at the protest, said she was in a domestic violence situation for years. However, she ended up on the other side of the legal system because of her situation, she said.

She said her former husband used physical and verbal abuse, and left her with battered spouse syndrome. Because of this syndrome, she said, she snapped and assaulted her husband.

Phillips ended up being sentenced to 18 months in the Carroll County Detention Center after being convicted of first-degree assault in 2010, according to electronic court records.

She said a forensic psychologist testified in court that her actions were indicative of battered spouse syndrome, but the judge found her criminally responsible. She said her case is similar to that of Sluder's, except that she ended up serving time.

"The judges know practically nothing about domestic violence," Phillips said.

Phillips and Bittinger were joined by Katherine Adelaide, who said she is still under an active protective order from her former husband.

Like Phillips and Bittinger, she said she is a victim of domestic violence. She said she had also been treated poorly by the system, adding that criminal charges were brought against her former husband for domestic violence-related issues, but he was either found not guilty or served no jail time.

Adelaide said she has a law degree, but when she was in court or trying to press charges, she said the jury, judges and others in the legal system did not find her credible.


"I'm your poster child for it could happen to someone like me," she said.

Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said he could not comment on the women's cases, but he said that the State's Attorney's Office under him has made strides to address domestic violence cases.

"I think we've done a tremendous amount on the issue," DeLeonardo said.

Assistant State's Attorney Brenda Harkavy, who focuses on domestic violence, said she has been with the office about a year and a half. Since she's been there, the office has created dockets reserved for domestic violence cases, allowing domestic violence complaints to be heard by the same judge on the same day.

There are currently four standing domestic violence dockets, she said.

The office has also led strangulation training sessions and created a domestic violence working group, she said.

The women are aiming to turn their own cases into opportunities to educate women. They march in parades and pass out fliers as often as they can to try to educate women before they get into an abusive relationship or to help them get out if they are in one.

Phillips said that if they can make a difference, their experiences might have been worth it.