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Utah homicides down in 2011, but domestic violence killings increased

Published: Sunday, Jan. 1 2012 9:25 p.m. MST

Officials investigate at the scene of a homicide at about 600 West on 100 South in Salt Lake Cit on Dec. 26.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A woman savagely beaten by her boyfriend, ultimately resulting in her death after spending several days on life support.

• A disabled woman who died after being bound crucifixion-style inside a closet.

• A woman shot and killed in a public park a day after filing for divorce from her husband.

These horrific incidents were just a few of the domestic violence-related tragedies in 2011 in Utah.

There were 39 homicides in Utah during 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Deseret News. That number could potentially go up as several suspicious deaths have not yet been classified. Seven homicides were investigated in December alone, including a double homicide discovered late Saturday in the small town of Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County.

According to statistics kept by the Deseret News and the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, 39 homicides would tie the lowest number recorded in many years. It also marks the fourth year in a row that the number of homicides in Utah was less than 50 for the entire state. There were 48 homicides in 2010, 41 in 2009 and 39 in 2008, according to BCI.

But police aren't celebrating this year's numbers or using words such as "just" 39 homicides. They say even one murder is tragic.

Advocates for fighting domestic violence note that, in fact, 2011 was a particularly bad 12 months.

"We've definitely seen a very disturbing increase in domestic violence-related deaths this year," said Kendra Wyckoff, interim executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Council.

In the majority of homicides this year, the suspect and victim were acquainted with each other. In at least 22 of the homicides, the victim was killed by a relative, boyfriend, roommate or caretaker.

Among the incidents in 2011:

• In March, one of the worst cases of domestic abuse of the year was investigated in Kearns where Christina "Nina" Harms, 22, who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, died as a result of dehydration and positional asphyxia from ongoing abuse, including being bound crucifixion-style inside a closet at her home. Harms' primary caretaker and the caretaker's parents whom she lived with were all charged.

• In May, officers responded to the death of Angela Michelle Jenkins, 44, in Millcreek. Investigators say she was beaten to death and may have been assaulted for 10 hours before she died. Her boyfriend was charged with murder.

"When people start to see violence in the home, they need to seek help — counseling, police — they need to start seeking help early," said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.

If a person is a victim of domestic violence, they should reach out to the services available to them as quickly as possible, he said. And if they're too afraid to do anything — as many victims are — police hope they ask a trusted friend to make the initial calls for them.

• Other cases of domestic violence-related deaths this year included 45-year-old Alecia Sherman, who police say was severely beaten by her live-in boyfriend in December. She fled to a neighbor's house, telling him her boyfriend "was out of control." She died after spending four days in intensive care.

Another disturbing trend in 2011 was the dramatic increase in the number of domestic violence-related murder-suicides, Wyckoff said.

Police in Utah investigated seven domestic violence-related murder-suicides in 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Deseret News. That number could have easily been eight if not for one person surviving his suicide attempt.

The perpetrator often times has an "If I can't have you, no one will" mentality, she said.

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