Katrina Hampton's body was found on the floor of the home she shared with her husband, wrapped in a blanket and spattered with blood.
She'd been there a week before her mother found her on Jan. 21, 2018. Two months later, Little Rock police charged Katrina's husband with murder.
"I knew right away he did it," Helen Hampton said. "I knew it was him."
The 34-year-old woman's death added to a grim statistic in Little Rock, as well as across the country.
Between 2014 and Oct. 1 of this year, 259 people died in Little Rock homicides. Of those, 59, roughly 23%, were domestic violence killings, meaning the killer was the victim's spouse, parent, child, roommate or domestic partner. Aside from slayings in which the Police Department has not revealed a motive, domestic violence is the most common motive for homicides in Little Rock.
In the months leading up to October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reviewed five years' worth of homicide data and found that 43% of homicide suspects have histories of domestic violence -- regardless of whether they killed family members or intimate partners.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that more than 10 million men and women in the United States are victims of domestic violence each year. Arkansas is among the 20 states with the highest rate of domestic violence against women and in the top 10 in domestic violence against men, according to the coalition.
Intimate partner violence leads to homicides more often than other forms of domestic violence, and women are the most common victims, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's ongoing study on intimate partner homicide.
Arkansas ranks third nationally in the number of women killed by men, according to the Violence Policy Center's study of 2017 homicides. In Little Rock, more than 55% of domestic violence homicides between 2015 and 2019 involved the death of a woman.
Kandi Hause, Victims Service Program coordinator for the Little Rock Police Department, said the data surrounding domestic violence will never truly represent the problem because many victims never report their abuse. The picture, she said, will always be incomplete.
The domestic abuse problem is such that when the Little Rock Police Department received about $1.2 million in grants this year, part of that money went to hiring a detective specifically to investigate domestic violence cases, and another several thousand dollars helped hire a victim services specialist to focus on domestic abuse.
"We could do more in law enforcement," Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey said. "Not necessarily in Little Rock, in law enforcement as a whole. These numbers are not getting any better, as a matter of fact, each year, they grow. And these are the numbers that are reported to us. It makes me wonder how many are not."
Katrina Hampton never told her mother when her husband, Wade Williams, began abusing her. She excused the bruises, made up a story about her limp and said she'd had a cooking accident to justify the burn on her palm.
It was only after she died that Helen Hampton said her daughter's friends began telling her the truth. Williams had beaten her, pushed her down and kicked her, told her to stick her hand in burning oil while he held a gun to her head.
Many of the abuses happened while Katrina was pregnant with their daughter.
"Why didn't they tell me?" her mother asked recently. "Why did they wait till she was dead to say something?"
Experts say domestic abusers rarely kill the first time they hit, kick or choke a partner. The incidents often start small. The first outburst may seem isolated -- a combination of factors that lead up to the person lashing out.
"We know from working from these victims, the first time they call police is not the first time there's been an incident of physical abuse," Hause said. "It's the first time it rose to the occasion that they felt like they need police intervention."
Victims sometimes stay because their partners apologize, saying it will never happen again. In other cases, the victim may feel that he or she does not have the money to leave. Many, like Katrina Hampton, fear their partners so much that they feel it's not safe to leave.
After her daughter's death, Helen said she was angry that some news media portrayed her daughter as an addict who never removed herself from an abusive relationship.
Beth Goodrich, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said blaming the victim for the perpetrator's actions is common only in two crimes: intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
"'Why don't they just leave?' is, in all my history in working in this field, the most common question people ask me," Goodrich said. "We do this thing as a society where we get really angry, and we focus that anger on victim behaviors."
"Our problem there is we're not focusing on who is doing the crime."
LAPSE AND BREAK-IN
Helen Hampton said Williams manipulated her daughter into doing things she would not have done otherwise. Katrina, who struggled with drug abuse in her teens and 20s, had gone to therapy before she met Williams in 2015.
"She was going back to school," Helen said. "Her life was finally going back up ... and then he came around."
When Williams entered her daughter's life, Helen said hardship followed. Katrina relapsed into drug use, the state took away her children and, once, Williams persuaded her to break into a neighbor's home.
"He made her do that," Helen said. "She told me he made her do that. She said she never realized how much power he had over her."
Katrina wrote a letter to her neighbors after the arrest begging them to forgive her. Investigators found the note on the kitchen counter after her death. Her mother said she didn't know if the letter was ever delivered.
"No words can express how I feel ... for the damage I have caused," she wrote. "I want to apologize for what I did."
Howard Turney, a social work professor at the University of Arkansas Little Rock and family therapist, said many abusers isolate their victims from their relatives, friends and peers.
"We all need relationships, and when you get isolated away ... you tend to become internal and really blame yourself," Turney said. "It trends into self-loathing. ... They might think it's their fault. It's frightening that someone would get to that point, but the abuser will blame the person. 'You shouldn't have said that to me.' 'I'm not going to put up with that.'"
Abusive relationships hurt more than a person's body, Turney said. The mind, too, suffers from anxiety, depression and a loss of hope.
"The person is manipulated into staying and living these lives of horror, and some of them are truly lives of horror," Turney said. "Their mental health is being destroyed inch by inch."
Katrina Hampton had no car. For long periods, she had no phone. In a journal that investigators photographed as evidence after her death, she wrote that she felt "trapped" and had no one to turn to.
"It was my son's birthday today, and I didn't get a chance to see him," she wrote on June 9, 2017. "I keep praying but I feel like, father, I'm all out of chances with you. Please send me a sign that you haven't given up on me. At times I know you listen but I still feel alone."
A TURNING POINT
Helen Hampton said that in the days before her daughter's death, Katrina hit a turning point.
She and a friend planned to go to a rehabilitation center together and leave town long enough to rid herself of Williams for good. Her bags were packed when her mother found her body.
Victims of domestic abuse are 70 times more likely to be killed when they are leaving their abuser or in the weeks after leaving their abuser, according to a study by the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
"She was so close," Helen said.
On Jan. 21, 2018, seven days after investigators believe Katrina died, her mother sat down on the floor next to her daughter's body and wept. A green-and-blue comforter wrapped Katrina's body. One hand was stretched above her head, and the cloth hid half of her face.
"She was laying to where I couldn't see her face," Helen said. "I couldn't see what he did to her."
Police did not initially reveal Katrina Hampton's cause of death, but an affidavit for Williams' arrest said she'd suffered blunt force trauma on her head, with five blows on the back of her skull and the side of her face.
Her cheekbones, so like her mother's, were swollen and bruised from another strike on the bridge of her nose. There was faint bruising along her legs, too.
In April 2018, a woman told detectives that Williams had described how he would kill someone if he committed a murder, the affidavit said.
"He told her, 'you get a bat [and] beat somebody on their head. Their elbows, kneecaps and on their feet,'" the affidavit said. "Then he said to her, 'no traces. He didn't want to leave no trace or something.'"
But the woman's testimony was hypothetical, not a confession, and investigators had little physical evidence tying Williams to his wife's death.
Though he was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder, Williams pleaded no contest to a charge of manslaughter in April of this year and was sentenced to eight years in prison, according to court records.
His first parole hearing is next April, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction.
ROLE OF POLICE
Between January 2015 and June 2019, Little Rock police officers responded to more than 25,000 domestic violence calls, according to data from the Police Department. Humphrey said domestic violence is so prevalent that officers respond to domestic calls daily.
"When an officer goes out to a call ... they're trying to determine 'what's the probability of us returning? What's the probability of this escalating?'" Humphrey said. "If, God forbid, we have to go back, we have to start thinking, 'do we need to remove this person?'"
Of the 203 suspects identified in homicides between 2015 and Oct. 1 of this year, 45% had histories of domestic violence. For domestic homicides, that percentage grows to 53%.
According to court records, Williams was charged with domestic battery in September 2016, six months after he and Katrina Hampton married. The charge was dismissed.
The intimate nature of domestic violence calls makes them difficult to respond to, Humphrey said. Often, officers have only one person's word against another. Sometimes, the victims don't want the abusers arrested -- they just want the abuse to stop. In some cases, neighbors call 911 but neither the victims nor the abusers want to involve police officers.
"It's hard, but we have to do our job," Humphrey said. "It's not easy taking someone away from their home, but when you have probable cause and especially when there's bodily injury, you have to keep that [victim] safe. You have to make an arrest."
Sometimes the harm isn't apparent. In that case, officers have to determine whether there is a potentially dangerous situation in the home.
Officers ask the victim to fill out a lethality assessment form, a list of 12 questions used to determine whether an aggressor is a danger to anyone in the household. Whether the officer contacts the Domestic Violence Hotline depends on how many times a victim answers "yes" to the questions. Regardless, the officer gives the victim the hot line's number and provides a Laura's Card that explains victims' rights and lists a variety of services available.
"It starts from the time that call is made. If an officer doesn't show empathy and take those calls seriously, it can affect the case," Humphrey said. "Then what you have is victims who say, 'if that officer didn't care, why should I care?'"
But officers can't be in a home throughout the day and night. Officers can't walk victims through the process of escaping violent relationships.
"That's where victims' advocates step in," Hause said.
The Little Rock Police Department's Victim Services Unit provides information, resources and referrals for victims of violent crimes, but it also provides diapers, snacks, bedsheets and, when possible, protection.
The five-person unit will grow in the coming year because the Police Department received more than $420,000 in a Victims of Crime Act grant from the Department of Justice last month to, in part, employ five victims specialists and a volunteer coordinator. One of the specialists will focus solely on domestic violence.
Though Hause said it's hard to draw a line between domestic abusers and other violent offenders, she believes the two are connected.
"If these are the people that they're sharing their life with ... and they're willing to harm them, how likely are they to harm someone who cuts them off in traffic?" Hause said. "If you're willing to do that to someone you love, what will you do to a stranger?"
Hause has been working with victims of violent crime for more than 20 years. She said she's seen victims escape abusive relationships and go on to lead happy lives. She's seen others return to their abusers again and again. She also has spoken to domestic violence victims who later became homicide victims.
"Off the top of my head, I can think of four who were killed by their abuser," Hause said. "I worked with them when they were domestic battery victims, and I worked with their family when there was a homicide. That is hard. As an advocate, it is hard."
Hause tells a story of a young woman she counseled more than a decade ago.
"The first time I saw her, she said 'he kicked me in the back,'" Hause said. "When she lifted her shirt, she had the outline of a boot on her back, and it had bruised her so bad that you could see the exact tread of the boot."
The woman went to a shelter, but Hause found out later that she'd returned to her abuser. Then, one day, the woman's body was found in a ditch out in the county. Her murder was never solved.
"She was such a neat girl," Hause said. "She was one of those girls who had that personality and that spark. Just a little sassy but so nice and warm. ... That one was really hard. Nobody deserves that."
Often, domestic abuse also affects children in the home. In the 59 domestic homicides, nine children younger than 18 were killed. In other instances, children become witnesses, as in the stabbing death of Allah-U Akbar, 56, who bled out on a hotel room floor as his 9-year-old daughter called 911 last month.
"So many times kids are in those homes," Hause said. "That's what becomes a normal relationship for them. Some of us will grow up to recognize that it's not normal, but not everybody has the opportunity to know that."
Even children who are not physically abused are affected by abuse in the home, Turney said.
"It creates a bit of a legacy," Turney said. "If you watched your dad beat your mom from 1 to 18, you're likely to be a victim or an abuser. We look at our parents as role models for our entire lives."
Helen Hampton is raising her daughter's five children now. The youngest turned 3 this year. Al'lah was Katrina's only daughter. She had prayed for a little girl for years. Helen said her daughter loved her children more than anything, and the journal that investigators photographed is littered with notes about how much she missed them.
Al'lah has high, strong cheekbones and deep, brown eyes, like her mother and her grandmother. She smiles easily and widely. Katrina was like that when she was young -- always smiling, always happy, her mother said.
But where Katrina was shy and withdrawn, Al'lah shines around other people.
Helen says more than anything, she wants the cycle of abuse to stop with her daughter. When she's not at work and not taking care of the children, she spends her time planning what she will say if allowed to speak at Williams' parole hearing.
"I can't let him do it again," she said. "I can't let him do this to someone else's daughter."
NW News on 10/28/2019