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The Tragic Case of the West Virginia Woman that Marked a Change in Law

April 8, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Sonya Bailey spent 16 years unable to walk, talk or feed herself because of injuries at the hand of her husband. But Bailey's case marked an important change in domestic-violence law.

Bailey died this winter. Her abuser remains in prison thanks to a federal law that was new at the time.

Bailey's mother, Elena Campbell, says Sonya was beaten in the head and stuffed in a car trunk while her husband tried to escape police.

"He hit her, wrapped her up in a blanket and put her in the trunk of the car and carried her around for six days. There was scratches on the trunk lid that she was trying to get out."

Sonya's husband was arrested when he finally took her to a hospital. Bailey never really recovered. Her husband faced additional charges under the then-new Violence Against Women Act, which Campbell says had been signed not long before her son-in-law's arrest.

"President Clinton had signed a domestic-violence law in 1994, and this was before this happened to Sonya. She was the first case that was tried under this new law."

The law is part of a trend to toughen the penalties against domestic violence, activists say. Adrienne Worthy, director of Legal Aid of West Virginia, says Legal Aid mostly deals with the civil issues related to domestic violence. but that Bailey's husband faced federal criminal charges because he took Sonya over state lines when he kidnapped her.

"It was the first federal prosecution under the interstate domestic-violence statute, and for that reason kind of set the stage for things to come."

The U.S. attorney's office in Charleston is marking Bailey's case as part of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. Campbell and Worthy are to attend a ceremony marking the observance, to be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday on the fifth floor of the Robert Byrd Courthouse, 300 Virginia St. East, in downtown Charleston.

Anyone suffering domestic abuse can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV