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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Nancy Grimes is on the front lines in the fight against domestic violence.
She’s the director of Iva’s Place, a help center for domestic violence victims in Lenoir City.
Her message to anyone in an abusive relationship is simple.
“Get out,” she said.
Grimes warns your last breath could come as a result of your partner’s violent rage.
“Most women will leave and go back seven times,” Grimes said. “Usually, if they’ve gone back that much, they will die.”
Oliver Springs resident Opal Williams believes that’s what happened to her granddaughter.
Pamela Nicole Williams entered the University of Tennessee Medical Center on Aug. 7, 2005, and died four days later.
Authorities said her condition started to deteriorate after a visit from her boyfriend, Thomas Ray Johnson.
Williams said she long suspected Johnson was abusive to her granddaughter and responsible for her death.
Roane County prosecutors thought so as well. They charged Johnson with second-degree murder.
However, Assistant District Attorney General Frank Harvey said the problem his office had with the case was officials could not confirm it was an in-tentional killing.
“It certainly may have been, and the suggestion is there that it was, but we could not prove that,” he said.
So instead of going to trial for second-degree murder, Johnson cut a deal with prosecutors that reduced his charge to voluntary manslaughter.
He pleaded guilty to the lesser count in Roane County Criminal Court on Nov. 16 and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Johnson faced as many as 60 years if convicted of second-degree murder.
Williams said she believes he got off easy.
Johnson is still a free man. He doesn’t have to turn himself in to authorities to start serving his sentence until January.
He could also have a shot at parole before the end of his sentence.
Emergency room personnel at the University of Tennessee Medical Center gave statements to authorities that painted Johnson as an abuser. Angie Randolph, a CT technologist, treated Pamela in the hospital.
She said the injuries were inconsistent with a bike fall, which was first reported as the cause of her injuries.
Randolph’s statement also recounted Pamela’s demeanor in the hospital.
According to the statement, each time hospital staff tried to strap her down she would yell, “Don’t hurt me, Tommy.”
Harvey said the statements from hospital staff would have been considered hearsay, however, and not allowed at trial.
“We wished that we could have used them, but we looked at the law up one side and down the other and those statements would not have been admissible,” Harvey said.
Pamela Williams was only 18 at the time of her death. She left behind a young daughter named Blaklee.
Her grandmother said Blaklee was adopted by another family member.
Pamela was also pregnant at the time of her death.
Harvey said prosecutors considered charging Johnson with two counts of murder, but decided against it.
“We did consider that and looked at that, and we could not fit it within the statute,” he said.
Grimes said one of the misconceptions about domestic abuse is that it only occurs in heterosexual relationships.
She said the problem is also prevalent among those involved in alternative relationships.
“There’s huge violence in the gay and lesbian community,” Grimes said. “There’s not any areas or cultures that domestic violence doesn’t affect.”
Tragic cases like the one of Pamela Nicole Williams aren’t the only example of how pervasive the problem is in East Tennessee.
Grimes said the number of calls into her organization’s hotline is proof.
“We have on average between 250 to 300 hotline calls per month,” Grimes said. “Most domestic violence programs our size that have hotlines usu-ally get about 150 calls per month.”
The Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence advises that you are probably in an abusive relationship if your partner does any of the following:
• Embarrass you with bad names and put-downs.
• Look at you or act in ways that scare you.
• Control what you do, whom you see or talk to or where you go.
• Stop you from seeing or talking to friends or family.
• Take your money, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money.
• Make all the decisions.
• Tell you you’re a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children.
• Act like the abuse is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it.
• Destroy your property or threaten to kill your pets.
• Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons.
• Shove you, slap you or hit you.
• Force you to drop charges.
• Threaten to commit suicide or kill you.
• Make you account for every minute when you run errands, go to work, etc.
• Pressure you into sex.
• Tell you no one will love you like they do.
• Interfere with your ability to work.