Loved to Death

Jim Garner wanted to murder his wife, Dana. Even from the grave, he may get his way.

But what about Ben? She'd heard that other shot. Had Jim killed Ben? Would he be back to finish her off?

She willed herself to her feet. Unsure of where Jim might be, she went to the fence.

Matt Smith, a painter who was working across the street, ran over. "I'll save you," he yelled, and went to the house next door, where he asked a woman for a gun. She wouldn't give him one.

Dana was sure she was bleeding to death. She went to the door at the back of her garage and opened it. Smith stood there. He helped her across the street to the house he'd been painting. She laid down.

The first police officer to arrive was the one who'd admired Jim's Jaguar a month earlier. One of several who had told her to calm down, that Jim just wanted to see his kids. "Oh, it's you," he said when he saw Dana.

"I told you he was going to kill me," Dana spat back. "You should have protected me."

Within a few minutes, a Denver SWAT team had surrounded her house.
The police saw Ben looking out of the living-room window. After nearly ninety minutes, they coaxed him out of the house. He'd spent all that time alone with his dead father.

Jim had gone back inside after shooting Dana, sat down at the dining-room table, put the gun to his head and fired. The .38-caliber bullet had passed right through his skull, and he lay in a puddle of blood beneath the table.

Dana was taken to Denver General Hospital. When she arrived, the television cameras were already there, covering the latest stalking assault.

She was convinced she was dying. How could she be shot in the back of the head and not die? But X-rays revealed that the bullet had stopped just short of doing any real damage. It rested in her neck muscle against the vertebrae and a major artery to her brain.

None of the surgeons could explain why the bullet hadn't killed her. At that range, a .38-caliber could have passed through a tree. And the next round had gone through her ex-husband's skull with no problem.

Perhaps the bullet hadn't received the proper charge at the factory. Maybe she had tensed her neck muscles at just the right moment in just the right way. Dana preferred one surgeon's explanation.

"It was a God thing," he said.

In the hospital, Dana finally was interviewed in person by a Denver detective. "You hit the jackpot," the detective said. "Ben's alive and Jim's dead." To him, the case was closed.

For Dana, the shooting had blown it wide open. Neighbors came forward to say they knew she feared her husband and that he was stalking her. Smith had heard her chew out the officer for not believing the threat was real.

Denver police spokesman John Wyckoff defends his department's actions in the Garner case. "There is nothing we could have done differently," he says. "Just because there's an arrest warrant out on some guy doesn't mean we can find him."

In this case, he says, officers were watching Dana's house and the house of Jim's friends, and they had gone to the bars that Dana indicated. "Unfortunately, he got to her before we could get to him."

Wyckoff suggests that Dana's anger is misdirected. The police don't have enough officers to stick with every potential victim 24 hours a day. But the real problems, he says, begin when a perpetrator is arrested and allowed back on the streets within a few hours.

"I think maybe she ought to be asking her questions of somebody else," he says of Dana. "Why was he constantly back out on the streets? The DAs give the old excuse: They never question the decision of the jury. The judges give the old excuse: They did everything they could.

"We can't be all things to all people, but we're the easy targets."
According to Detective David Schultz with the Denver Domestic Violence Unit, stalkers often are hard to control because they have no respect for court orders. "Some do get scared off by police action," he says. "Or some get in the system or see a therapist...But with others, there's a mental-illness component, and nothing matters to them except their obsession."

In 1996 there were 64 domestic-violence-related deaths in Colorado. Four involved children; almost all involved stalking. That same year, the state's women's crisis centers received more than 150,000 calls for help. According to Laine Gibbes, director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, many of the calls came from women being stalked.

"It's one of our keys to lethality," Gibbes says. "The obsession leads to a very strong correlation to lethality."

Under the Colorado "stalker law" passed three years ago by the legislature, a person commits harassment by stalking if he directly or indirectly makes a credible threat against a person and in connection with that threat repeatedly follows the person or a member of that person's family. A credible threat is defined as something that would cause a reasonable person to be in fear for his life or safety.

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