The Des Moines Register
September 24, 2009
Mom who fled Iowa, ex-spouse, risks jail on return
by Lee Rood
A Decatur County woman who said she fled the state fearing for her life and that of her 7-year-old son is being required to return or risk being arrested.
Ringgold County Attorney Clint Spurrier has thus far rejected pleas from advocates of domestic-violence victims to drop a criminal complaint against Hannah Newberry for violating the visitation arrangement from her divorce in June. If Newberry returns to Iowa for a family court hearing today, she could be arrested – and possibly lose custody of her son, she said.
“This to me is blackmail,” said Newberry, who was awarded sole physical custody of the couple’s son. “I left to protect myself. They’re trying to make me a criminal even though I’m not the one who has done anything wrong.”
Newberry, 47, originally of Lamoni, said she fled to Ohio on June 12 because of escalating harassment by her former husband, Timothy Newberry.Timothy Newberry could not be reached for comment.
Spurrier said he was appointed to the case only recently because Decatur’s county attorney had a conflict. Spurrier also said that until Hannah Newberry appears in court, where she will be represented by an attorney, there is little he can do. A charge is already on file, and a warrant for her arrest was issued.”When she returns, it would be my anticipation that she turns herself in so arrangements can be made for her release,” Spurrier said.He added that he is restricted in what he can say to a defendant without an attorney present. “I don’t think there’s any intention to hold her in jail,” he said.
A national organization called Stop Family Violence has made appeals to Iowa’s attorney general, Gov. Chet Culver and Chief Justice Arthur Gamble to intervene in the case. The organization’s members also pleaded to Spurrier in letters, saying Hannah Newberry is in a no-win situation: If she returns, she can be arrested and puts herself or her son at risk. If she is jailed, Timothy Newberry can petition the court to regain custody of their son. Timothy Newberry “has a long, documented history of severe domestic and child abuse spanning 30 years and two additional wives,” the group wrote Culver on Sept. 4.
Miller and Culver did not respond; Gamble wrote back saying he could not intervene under state law, the organization said. Stop Family Violence said all three of Timothy Newberry’s previous wives obtained orders of protection from him. A child-abuse report written four years ago said Newberry’s violent temper “appears to be becoming progressively worse.” The social worker said she feared for the safety of his children and recommended that Newberry, 51, have only supervised visits with his children.According to a social worker’s report, the 2005 incident was spurred when Hannah Newberry tried to leave the home because her husband was in such a foul mood. He began to choke her, blocked the door and smiled as she struggled, saying ” ‘Oh, good – struggle. Go ahead. I bet you want to call 911, don’t you?’ ” according to the DHS report.
Eventually Hannah Newberry managed to escape, and the police arrived.
A copy of an Iowa Department of Human Services child-abuse assessment obtained by The Des Moines Register shows Timothy Newberry was found responsible for child abuse for trying to choke his wife while she was holding their 3-year-old son in March 2005. He had three similar confirmed, or founded, child-abuse reports, in November 1990, in 1998 and in 2004.
Iowa’s Department of Human Services has confirmed several cases of abusive behavior by Timothy Newberry. Two alleged violations of protection orders brought by Hannah Newberry were dropped this summer because she would not return to Iowa to testify against her ex-husband.