Boyfriend a sus­pect in slay­ing of woman

Vic­tim wouldn’t press charges against man ac­cused of do­mes­tic abuse, au­thor­i­ties say

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Tonya Alanez

When she showed up bat­tered and bloody at a hos­pi­tal, the 34-year-old said her boyfriend had cracked her over the head with a crow­bar. But when it was time to tell po­lice un­der oath about the beat­ing, Jen­nifer Silva couldn’t be found and wouldn’t re­turn calls, court records show.

That was late last sum­mer. As a re­sult, state pros­e­cu­tors on Oct. 15 de­clined to pur­sue do­mes­tic vi­o­lence charges against Silva’s boyfriend. Six weeks later, on Nov. 28, Silva’s body was found in a Sail­boat Bend home, the vic­tim of a homi­cide, po­lice said.

The sus­pect is Thomas Smith, 52, Silva’s boyfriend and the fa­ther of her 2-year-old son. Fort Laud­erdale po­lice say they have a mur­der war­rant for Smith but have de­clined to re­veal how Silva was killed.

Three times, Smith has had do­mes­tic vi­o­lence charges against him dropped. Twice, in 2018 and 2016, Silva was the ac­cuser. The vic­tim in a 2012 mis­de­meanor do­mes­tic bat­tery case was a dif­fer­ent woman, Broward court records show.

Call po­lice. They make an ar­rest. Vic­tim re­cants and de­clines to press charges. This was Silva and Smith’s pat­tern — a sad, frus­trat­ing cy­cle of abuse that vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence play out again and again, ex­perts say.

“It hap­pens a lot,” said Ste­fanie New­man, prose­cu­tor in charge of the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence unit at the Broward State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice. “If some­one is re­fus­ing to talk, or telling

us it’s all a mis­un­der­stand­ing … if they won’t tell us what hap­pened and we don’t have any wit­nesses that can tes­tify, we can’t do any­thing with it.”

The 2012 case was “se­vere,” the woman had to be hos­pi­tal­ized and wanted to press charges, records show. But a Fort Laud­erdale po­lice of­fi­cer was blamed for “drop­ping the ball” and fail­ing to give pros­e­cu­tors pho­tos of the vic­tim or a state­ment, records ob­tained by the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel show.

In 2016 an­other violent do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion be­tween Smith and Silva fell apart be­fore pros­e­cu­tion. Silva told Hol­ly­wood po­lice Smith stran­gled her to “near un­con­scious­ness,” yet she de­clined med­i­cal at­ten­tion, re­fused to let in­ves­ti­ga­tors take pho­tos of her freshly scratched, swollen and welted neck and would not give a state­ment or sign a com­plaint, records show.

When pros­e­cu­tors tried to move for­ward with do­mes­tic stran­gu­la­tion charges, Silva said “the in­ci­dent was blown out of pro­por­tion and she didn’t want to pros­e­cute,” ac­cord­ing to a prose­cu­tor’s memo.

If a cop thinks do­mes­tic abuse has oc­curred, the of­fi­cer is ob­li­gated to make an ar­rest, New­man said. But pros­e­cu­tors de­cide what charges, if any, to pur­sue. That de­ci­sion is largely based on the like­li­hood of prov­ing the charges.

If do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims refuse to co­op­er­ate, pros­e­cu­tors will con­tinue to press charges only if they have tes­ti­mony from wit­nesses to the abuse. Just “be­cause some­one has a bad record,” as in Smith’s case, isn’t rea­son enough to pros­e­cute, New­man said.

Vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence get locked into a com­plex re­la­tion­ship of abuse that the av­er­age Jane or Joe can’t re­late to or un­der­stand, said Lori Butts, a Davie-based foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist. “It’s so sad, yet so com­mon.”

“They feel re­spon­si­ble,” Butts said. “They can blame them­selves. And there’s shame, there’s a lot of shame and guilt on the part of the vic­tim and a lot of emo­tional con­nected-ness.”

The sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther com­pli­cated if the cou­ple have chil­dren to­gether, min­gled fi­nances and are emo­tion­ally de­pen­dent on each other, she said.

“It’s so tough, it is so tough. I can’t tell you how many vic­tims I’ve coun­seled who don’t even de­fine it as abuse when it’s go­ing on,” Butts said. “The vic­tims them­selves down­play the be­hav­ior. It takes them awhile to ad­mit that they have been a vic­tim of abuse.”

Silva, orig­i­nally from Puerto Rico, was a felon with nu­mer­ous ar­rests on co­caine, Xanax, flakka and mar­i­juana charges. She did two stints in state prison. She was re­leased in June 2014 af­ter serv­ing nearly three years on con­vic­tions for co­caine possession, grand theft and bur­glary.

A po­lice re­port from Aug. 30, de­tails Smith’s ar­rest for ag­gra­vated bat­tery with a deadly weapon af­ter Silva was hos­pi­tal­ized. She had a big cut on her head, her face and arms were bloody and she “ap­peared to have been dragged around in the dirt,” the ar­rest­ing of­fi­cer wrote.

Silva gave a taped state­ment to po­lice at the hos­pi­tal but it wasn’t a sworn state­ment, ac­cord­ing to an Oct. 15 memo from the state at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

“State­ment taken from vic­tim was not un­der oath and can­not be used for the fil­ing of felony charges,” prose­cu­tor Michelle Bam­das wrote. “In ad­di­tion, the state­ment was vague as to the facts.”

De­tec­tive Yvette Martinez, of the Fort Laud­erdale Po­lice Depart­ment re­peat­edly tried to track down Silva to get a sworn state­ment but found that her last known ad­dress was boarded up. “She is not re­turn­ing any of my calls,” Martinez said in an email ob­tained by the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel show.

Nu­mer­ous at­tempts by po­lice to con­tact Silva were un­suc­cess­ful, the prose­cu­tor wrote. “At this time, there is no rea­son­able like­li­hood of con­vic­tion on the charge of ag­gra­vated bat­tery.”

When Hol­ly­wood po­lice were sum­moned in 2016, the 911 caller said: “I need an of­fi­cer. It is a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. This is not the first time with my boyfriend.” Then the caller hung up.

When po­lice got there, Silva had a black eye, a bloody lip, fresh scratches, swelling and welts around her neck, court records show.

Silva told po­lice she and Smith had been in a re­la­tion­ship for two years and had a 6-month-old son. She would not let po­lice pho­to­graph her in­juries and would not make a state­ment.

“Due to the se­ri­ous na­ture of the de­fen­dant’s his­tory and the facts of the case,” pros­e­cu­tors later sub­poe­naed Silva to try to get her to co­op­er­ate. But when they met with her she stated, “I do not want to press charges.” With no ev­i­dence, pros­e­cu­tors con­cluded there was “no rea­son­able like­li­hood of con­vic­tion” and closed out the case, memos from the state at­tor­ney’s of­fice show.

It was a dif­fer­ent woman who brought do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ac­cu­sa­tions against Smith in 2012, records show.

“Cap­tain called me and said the of­fi­cer on the case ‘dropped the ball,’” the prose­cu­tor wrote in notes. “While work­ing on this case, the of­fi­cer’s fa­ther passed away and he left abruptly with­out ac­cu­rately re­port­ing what oc­curred and the ev­i­dence re­ceived.”

With no ev­i­dence to sup­port the ac­cu­sa­tions, pros­e­cu­tors de­clined the case, records show.

Po­lice urge any­one with in­for­ma­tion about Smith’s where­abouts to con­tact Fort Laud­erdale Po­lice De­tec­tive E. Thomas at 954-828-6093. Anony­mous tips can be sub­mit­ted to Broward Crime Stop­pers at 954-493-8477.


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