(WOMENSENEWS)–This month, professional baseball player Julio Lugo, formerly of the Houston Astros baseball team, was acquitted of all charges of family-violence assault for which he was arrested in April.
Catherine Evans, assistant district attorney for Harris County, Texas, said that Mabely Lugo had softened her accusations against her husband by the time she arrived at the courthouse for opening statements, saying that she had exaggerated her account and he had not intended to hurt her. At the end of the trial, press reports say Mabely Lugo sighed in relief and smiled.
Lugo, who had been dropped from the Houston Astros after his arrest made headlines, seems to have emerged with his reputation fully resuscitated. Some jurors even asked Lugo, now playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for his autograph.
At the time of the arrest, Mabely Lugo alleged that her husband smacked her face and banged her head on the car window just before a game. After signing sworn statements attesting to the attack, she wound up testifying that she had exaggerated the incident and that her husband did not mean to harm her. The bump on her forehead was explained by the defense as self-inflicted while she was attempting to “pull away” from her husband.
Taking the Blame Can Feel Like Control
Mabely Lugo may not be a battered wife; but she has done what many battered wives do, which is recant their original story. Women often take the blame for a man’s violence toward them. Their reasons may range from guilt to fear of facing the future alone. Taking the blame can also provide them a certain false sense of control in a chaotic situation in which control seems to mainly belong to the abuser.
“If I am responsible for this mess,” the woman might tell herself, “I can do something to fix it.”
Men who batter women can be reputable. They can be good ball players, carpenters, lawyers and executives. They can even be good friends and leaders. This is precisely why women, inexplicably to outsiders, stay with them. The women start thinking that, since the men have a “good” reputation, it must be their fault when they are abusive at home.
This is not to say that women don’t ever provoke their men or retaliate against them. Few women are angels who suffer in silence. Mabely Lugo may indeed have a tendency to exaggerate as she herself admitted in court. The fact remains, however, that when the police arrived, she was found sitting in her van crying with a bump and bruises, while he had gone inside the stadium to do his job–play ball. It’s an all-too typical scenario.
In 1996 the case against then-pro-quarterback Warren Moon came up for prosecution in Fort Bend County, Texas. The Associated Press reported that Moon allegedly had struck his wife in the head, choked her until she had almost lost consciousness and, later, when the two of them were in separate vehicles, pursued her in a car chase that reached 100 mph. In the much-publicized trial that followed, Felicia Moon took the stand. She also took the blame for starting the fight. Warren Moon was acquitted and the couple reportedly ran into each other’s arms after the verdict was read.
The Moons are now divorced. The Lugos may now reconcile, according to reports.
Spousal Privilege Abolished in 1995
In 1995, Texas joined other states in abolishing spousal privilege in cases involving spousal violence. This eliminated the right of victims to refuse to testify against their abusive spouses. I was a family-violence counselor then and I was happy to see this amendment of the spousal-privilege statute because it affirmed family violence as a crime against the state and removed the opportunity for perpetrators and their lawyers to pressure the victims against testifying. When a victim asserts herself–by leaving the perpetrator or by testifying against him–she is placing herself in grave danger. With the new law, a wife could now testify and say truthfully that she had no choice.
While the prosecution can build a case without the victim’s cooperation, a victim’s testimony adds strength, for she may be the only witness to the crime.
“Of the misdemeanor family violence cases, only 1 out of 9 or 10 victims testified for the prosecution in our county in 2002. The rest either didn’t show or testified for the defense,” says Stuti Patel, assistant district attorney for Fort Bend County.
Nonetheless, due to the psychological and emotional pressures involved in these cases, the prosecution still takes a risk when a victim takes the stand. The accusers often change their stories, as in the cases of Lugo and Moon.
The laws may be strengthened; the accuser may be compelled to testify using the spousal-privilege statute, or she may come forward on her own. None of this, however, really mitigates the psychological or emotional pressures on the accuser or guarantees that she will stick with her original story.
Lakshmy Parameswaran is a family counselor and founder and president of Daya Inc., serving South Asian survivors of domestic violence in the Houston area. Her writings have appeared in such publications as The Houston Chronicle, Texas Psychologist and Rediff.com.
For more information:
Texas Council on Family Violence:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: