Monday, March 31, 2008

Domestic Murder

It was never a factual issue that William Corpuz murdered his wife, Marisa, in their San Francisco home in September of 2004. Corpuz turned himself in to the police and confessed that he had slashed his wife’s throat with his fishing knife. The legal question was whether he was guilty of murder in the first degree (a mandatory sentence of 26 years to life) or in the second degree (16 years to life).

After a four week trial in May of 2007, a San Francisco jury deliberated for 1 ½ days and unanimously agreed that Corpuz was guilty of murder 1. But on March 14, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jerome Benson overruled the jury and reduced the charge to murder 2.

Because he confessed to the crime, the facts were never in dispute. Corpuz, a caregiver in a home for the elderly, had been previously arrested in September of 2003 for domestic violence (DV) for choking his wife and then slamming her head face-first into the headboard of their bed.

Despite a long history of being a victim of her husband’s violence, Marisa stood by her man and minimized her injury to get the District Attorney to reduce the DV felony charge to a misdemeanor. He was released on probation on condition he attend a 52-week domestic abuse program.

Corpuz enrolled in a year of weekly two-hour sessions at AVACA, the Abuse, Violence and Anger Cessation Alliance, a program which stressed “a new technique that focuses on abusers' thought patterns and cultural conditioning, in hopes of changing the way they deal with stress”. Among the 150 people who have gone through this program, Corpuz was considered a model student who was always on time for his sessions, paid his fees, actively engaged in class discussions, bought and read books on domestic violence. He attended 39 weekly sessions, the last one just four days before he killed his wife.

In his police confession, Corpuz admitted that he had originally intended to shoot his wife that morning and prepared a gun with a single bullet two hours before the murder, but decided instead to get two knives from the kitchen. After two hours watching TV together in their bedroom, Corpuz said Marisa’s laughs and insults caused him to “explode” and slash his wife's throat. "I don't know. It just happened," he told police.

Corpuz’s attorney, Randall Martin, called him "extremely remorseful" and said that Corpuz had suffered long-standing emotional abuse during the marriage. "He was emasculated, depressed, ashamed and suicidal," Martin said in asking the judge to reduce the charge to murder 2.

In announcing his decision, Judge Benson said that while the killing was an "outrageous and savage domestic violence murder,...(he) found that under state law, deliberation had been absent from Corpuz's acts." According to California Penal Code § 189, however, murder in the first degree includes “lying in wait” or “any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.” But Benson did not believe Corpuz had deliberated enough for a murder 1 conviction and instead blamed state law for not including domestic violence as a “special circumstance” that would mandate a murder 1 conviction.

"Now why should a person who beats and kills his wife or girlfriend be treated differently from a stranger who kills someone during a robbery?" asked Marily Mondejar, President of the Filipina Women's Network (FWN).

Mondejar’s group had attended the trial and the March 14 sentencing hearing of Corpuz and was outraged at the sentence reduction. At a press conference on March 26, FWN members denounced the Benson decision and called for legislation that would include domestic violence as a “special circumstance” that would mandate a murder 1 conviction just as a murder committed during a robbery attempt.

But this would be a double-edged sword. Wives who kill their abusive husbands, even though in self-defense, may be charged with this special circumstance allegation as well. The solution, according to Beverly Upton for the Domestic Violence Consortium, may be found in “encouraging judges to look at how they can interpret the law to do more justice for women and communities in domestic violence and sexual assault."

At the FWN press conference, Upton disclosed that in the year she first assumed her post in San Francisco in 1998, there were 10 women who were murdered in the city as a result of domestic violence and four of the victims were Filipino women.

On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the US every day. In 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner. According to the Domestic Violence Prevention Fund (, as many as three million women in America are physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends per year. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. According to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey, nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.

What accounts for this violence against women? A clue may be found in a new 2004 Spanish law which redefined domestic violence as "a violence originating from the position of power of men over women.” The rationale for the law is that as long as men grow up in a culture which emphasizes male superiority over women and which views women as the property of men, there will be male violence against women.

"Marisa Corpuz is at peace now, but this murder really heightened awareness of domestic violence in the Filipino community," Mondejar noted.

Those wishing to have their awareness of domestic violence heightened should watch the premier performance of A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer at the Herbst Theatre at 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. This production of the Filipina Women’s Network includes men for the first time (I’m in it and so is Filipinas magazine publisher Greg Macabenta). For more information, please call (415) 278-9410 or log on to

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