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Wife’s Slaying Points to Failure of Justice System, Advocates Say

April 23, 1991

DENVER (AP) _ Seven months ago, a fearful Mary Sanchez begged a judge to jail her estranged husband after he assaulted her. Instead, he got a suspended sentence and two years probation.

Last weekend, Sanchez was gunned down. Police looked Tuesday for her husband, Durad Fears.

The murder, the second in Denver this month apparently involving domestic violence, underscores the difficulty of protecting domestic abuse victims, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

″It means that society failed her,″ said Deputy District Attorney Karen Steinhauser.

″She was a victim of domestic violence who did everything she was asked to, everything she should do, and we still couldn’t keep her safe. I think it was a real sad example of our failure,″ said Steinhauser, who supervises the office’s domestic violence division.

Sanchez, 40, was gunned down in her apartment complex parking lot early Saturday as she and her 10-year-old son prepared to leave for a skiing trip, police said. Witnesses told officers that Fears stepped from behind a truck and shot her.

Fears, 68, fled the scene, said John Wyckoff, a Denver police spokesman.

The couple had been married 20 years before separating in March 1990, said their daughter, Dominique Fears, 17.

″They fought a lot, but it didn’t get violent until he left in March,″ she said.

After Fears moved out, police arrested him on charges of misdemeanor assault in connection with an attack on Sanchez. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

In July, he was arrested again on charges of assaulting Sanchez for a second time. This time, he was charged with second-degree assault and felony menacing.

Sentencing in the first case was scheduled for last September. Before the hearing, Sanchez wrote to Denver County Judge Larry Bohning, begging him to put her estranged husband in jail.

″I do not want to die. Please give him the maximum jail sentence. ... I feel he will attempt to kill me again, possibly succeeding next time,″ she wrote.

During the hearing, Fears persuaded the judge that he wished to put the episode behind him.

″All I want to do is heal myself up and forget about this,″ he said.

Fears received a suspended 180-day sentence and two years probation.

The judge said Monday he regretted the killing, but added that Fears would have been out of jail by last weekend even if he had served the time.

″In hindsight, I’m not even sure that the six months in jail would have prevented this,″ Bohning told the Rocky Mountain News.

The Sanchez slaying followed another high-profile case that also drew attention to the issue of domestic violence.

Earlier this month, the Rev. Martin Drew shot and killed his estranged wife, the Rev. Regina Kobak Drew, as she left a Bible study class in the northwest Denver suburb of Westminster, police said. After he shot her, he killed himself.

According to Steinhauser, Colorado has the right laws to protect victims of domestic violence, but not enough enforcement.

″I think Colorado, particularly, is more enlightened than many other states,″ she said. ″I don’t think it was the laws that failed to protect Mary Sanchez. It was the enforcement of those laws.″

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