By Ryan Clark
Marketing + Communications
Nicole and her sister-in-law sat side by side in the hospital waiting room, talking. They knew the hours were slipping away.
Soon, Monica would be gone. And for what? Why? What purpose?
None of it made sense. A mother was going to die. A daughter. A friend.
“We have to do something,” Nicole said. “Whatever we can.”
That was the moment the two women came to a decision.
They would do their best to make sure this kind of tragedy never happened - to anyone - ever again.
The only question was how they were going to do it.
Monica Weber-Jeter died Nov. 9, 2014 – 32 days after being admitted into University of Cincinnati Hospital after being stabbed at least 28 times while sleeping on a couch in her North College Hill home, according to police reports.
Most of her major arteries were hit. Her wrist was broken. Her face was scarred.
When police found the 10-inch knife used in the stabbing, it was bent due to the amount of force used.
Two of Monica’s five children were in the room when the attack occurred. It was their father who did it, they said.
This was not the first time they had witnessed their father attacking their mother. And it was not the first time police had been called to their home.
But it would be the last time.
Monica, 36, would not survive. Her husband, Andre Jeter, has been charged with aggravated murder and has pleaded insanity. He has yet to stand trial, and a competency hearing in December will test whether he is able to.
Monica left behind scores of family. Aside from her five children, there are siblings and step-siblings, nieces, nephews, and an estimated 25 cousins across the tristate.
One sister, Nicole Miller, was enrolled in her second year at Chase Law School at NKU when the incident occurred. And she just happened to find herself in professor Sharlene Boltz’s Domestic Violence Law Seminar, a class where Nicole learned the legal side of what had happened to her sister. She learned about sentencing and what constituted attempted murder under the law.
“It was a cathartic experience,” said Nicole, a 25-year-old from Cincinnati. “When my sister was killed, I was able to bring this to the class, and we could talk about it and it helped me deal with everything.”
Boltz, her professor, said she made sure to get Nicole’s blessing before moving forward with any lessons involving her sister.
“We told the class to support her, and they did,” Boltz said. “But this was a teaching moment. Here we could learn not only about the case, but also about how to manage those who have been through trauma – in terms of their clients and themselves.”
“I didn’t want Monica to suffer in vain,” Nicole said. “I wanted what happened to her to mean something. I wanted us to be able to study it, and maybe, help make situations better for others. I couldn’t have gotten through this without the support of everyone at NKU.”
Boltz even helped Nicole throughout the legal process, setting up an emergency custody hearing with an attorney so relatives could take in the children, and helping her present testimony at Jeter’s bail hearings.
For more than a month, Nicole’s sister battled in the hospital, trying to stay alive. In class, she learned more about the legal side of the abuse her sister had endured.
On the night of Jan. 31, 2014 – eight months before she was killed – Monica told police her husband woke her up in their bedroom, that they struggled, and that he put her in a chokehold until she became dizzy and was unable to leave the room or call for help.
According to court records, Jeter pleaded no contest to a charge of first-degree domestic violence, a misdemeanor. He served 11 days in jail.
According to Nicole, this was not enough time behind bars.
“Victims of abuse need more time than that to move out,” she said. “They need to be able to get their kids, get their things together, and leave—which is what my sister was trying to do.”
The problem lies in Ohio’s punishment of strangulation, Nicole says. While there has been a growing awareness in state laws that recognize the need for harsher penalties for strangulation, both Ohio and Kentucky courts still see the offense as a misdemeanor, while 38 states rule it as a felony, according to the National Family Justice Center Alliance.
That means punishments include mandatory jail terms of about six months, long enough for victims like Monica to get out of their situations, Boltz said.
Nicole’s class read up on the law, as well as the connection between strangulation and homicide.
“There is a lot of research that shows a direct link between those who try to strangle and those who eventually commit murder,” Boltz said. “The law needs to be stronger.” She went on to note that if a woman has been strangled, she is seven times more likely to become a homicide victim.
A 2007 study from The Journal of Emergency Medicine found that 45 percent of attempted murder victims, and 43 percent of women murdered in domestic homicides, had been strangled by their abusive partners within the past year.
Just like Monica.
Nicole and her siblings wondered: If the law was stronger, could Monica have avoided her fate?
What could they do? Could they change it?
“When we were sitting in that hospital room, we just thought we had to try,” Nicole said. “We had to do something.”
When Monica died last November, Nicole’s classmates attended the funeral with her.
“We were there for her,” Boltz said. “We were very close to the situation as well. It put a face on the issue.”
Nicole and her family had already put their plan in motion. Along with other relatives, they started a campaign to change Ohio’s nonfatal strangulation laws, upgrading them to a felony.
It is called Ohio House Bill 362, or “Monica’s Law.”
There’s a Facebook page.
There’s a petition on Change.org with more than 101,000 supporters.
In Ohio, you can also find your representative and request the Bill be turned into law.
Ohio Representatives Michael Stinziano (D) and Stephanie Kunze (R) have sponsored Bill 362, which has started the circuitous legislation process. Currently the bill has been referred by the Rules and References Committee to the Judiciary Committee. (Look here to see what needs to happen next).
Boltz, who said she is acting in an advisory role only, believes that this cause belongs to Nicole and her family, and that “they know it could be a while.” Laws do not change quickly.
Nicole knows that no matter what happens, nothing will bring her sister back. She is still grieving. But she has a purpose.
“There is a bigger cause now,” she said. “I had always wanted to go into domestic violence law anyway. Now I have even more of a reason. This is about making sure this never happens to anyone, ever again.”