Man allegedly stabs wife hours after release on own recognizance

Daren Ruffin had been home from jail for only about a week before he found himself in custody again.

The charge was the same: second-degree assault, after his wife told Baltimore police that Ruffin beat her. But instead of spending a month in jail in lieu of bail, as he had before, Ruffin was released the next day on his own recognizance and ordered to stay away from his wife, Melissa Davis.

Hours later, he was charged with first-degree murder. Police found Davis stabbed to death in the couple's apartment last Friday and say Ruffin confessed to the crime. He is being held without bail in the Baltimore City Detention Center. He has no lawyer listed in state court records and family members could not be reached.

Ruffin had been arrested six times in as many months — four times in Massachusetts and twice in Maryland — on charges that he hurt his wife. In the first Maryland case, Ruffin was cleared when Davis refused to testify against him.

The allegations highlight some of the legal system's challenges in protecting victims of domestic abuse, many of whom are unwilling to come forward or testify in court. Police say they are often hamstrung in their efforts to help victims.

But Davis' family is furious at the most recent decision to let Ruffin out, arguing the courts should have recognized a pattern in the accusations of violent behavior.

"I am so angry about that," said Davis' mother, Brenda Ballard. "They have his rap sheet right there. Why do you let him out?"

Eric Gooden, the court commissioner who released Ruffin without bail, left his job Wednesday. Court officials would not discuss the circumstances of his departure and had no comment on his role in releasing Ruffin. Gooden could not be reached.

Lt. Rhonda McCoy, who runs the intimate partner and elderly abuse unit for Baltimore police, said authorities often find their options limited as they seek to stop a cycle of domestic violence.

"There's not much the system could do," she said. McCoy noted that Davis had previously refused to testify against her husband, resulting in a not-guilty verdict in the prior assault case. There are some victims who just don't want to see their significant others charged, McCoy said, even when police intervene.

Ruffin, 47, and Davis, 44, married in June 2012 and lived in Massachusetts before moving to Baltimore in November, according to family members.

Police in Chelsea, Mass., the suburb of Boston where the couple previously lived, said Ruffin was arrested four times for assaulting Davis between August and early November. Massachusetts limits the public disclosure of court files, and the outcome of the arrests was not available.

His record also includes a year and six months spent in North Carolina jail from March 2008 to August 2009 for an attempted assault with a deadly weapon conviction. In the 1990s, Ruffin was incarcerated in North Carolina for assault on another woman.

In early December, Ruffin was charged with second-degree assault after Davis wound up in a hospital with injuries to her upper lip, ribs and arm, telling Baltimore police that Ruffin beat her.

A court commissioner noted the violent nature of the assault, and Ruffin was held in the city jail in lieu of $35,000 bail. Ruffin was found not guilty after Davis invoked marital privilege and declined to testify against him during his Jan. 8 trial.

On Jan. 17, Ruffin was arrested and charged with assault again. This time, Davis' injuries were less serious.

Ruffin appeared in court Friday morning and was released on the condition that he have no contact with Davis.

About midnight Friday, police found Davis fatally stabbed in the couple's apartment in the 300 block of E. North Ave. On Saturday morning, Ruffin confessed to stabbing Davis with "a large chef-style knife," according to police.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi compared Davis' case to that of Veronica Williams. In 2008, Williams requested a protective order against her husband, Cleaven Williams, but did not fully detail years of abuse or say that she feared for her immediate safety. Williams was stabbed by her husband as she left the courthouse with the protective order and later died of her injuries.

Guglielmi said Williams' murder showed the Baltimore Police Department it needed to be "as proactive as possible" in reaching out to victims of domestic violence.

That means making sure victims understand all their options, McCoy said. Even if someone has been arrested or a protective order has been issued, a victim might still want to stay with a relative or seek shelter at place like the House of Ruth in Baltimore.

Julie Drake, a University of Maryland, Baltimore professor and the former head of the family violence division in the city state's attorney's office, said she and the city Police Department are working on a pilot program through which students reach out to victims of domestic violence.

Drake, who teaches at UMB's School of Social Work, said the services offered to victims would include crisis counseling, safety planning and evaluating each case on a scale to determine how likely a victim is to be killed by their partner.

"If we want to save the lives of victims of domestic violence, it is imperative that we provide services to the victim as quickly as possible," she said.