A Violent Mess
A wealthy wife didn’t get her day in court against an allegedly abusive husband.
By DAN MCGRAW
For police, domestic violence calls can be dangerous because of the volatile emotions involved, and in the past, officers often would not even make an arrest unless serious injuries were involved. For prosecutors, such cases were frequently considered messy he-said/she-said affairs, in which charges were dropped if the alleged victim declined to prosecute or changed his or her (usually her) story – even if the waffling might have been caused by threats from the abuser.
But in the past couple of decades, policies on handling domestic violence cases have changed in many places, both for police and prosecutors. Since 1991, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office has had a policy, according to its web site, that “has prevented family violence cases from being routinely dropped.”
So it was rather odd this summer when the Tarrant County DA’s office dropped a domestic violence case involving a wealthy and high-profile married couple – especially since the alleged victim said she wanted the case to go to court and was willing to testify. Neither the prosecutors nor the parties involved are talking much, but attorneys have confirmed that a taped phone call and a divorce-case deposition contributed to that decision.
Greg Blackmon and Deborah Skaling Kiley were married three years ago. Blackmon is the chief operating officer of Blackmon Mooring, which has long specialized in carpet cleaning and recently expanded into disaster cleanups. Kiley is a Fort Worth fitness trainer and author, and she’s far from the stereotype of a battered wife who’s afraid of facing her husband in court.
In 1982, Kiley was crewing on a yacht that sank in the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina. Three crew members were killed by sharks; Kiley and one other sailor survived, spending five days in a rubber dinghy before being rescued. In 1997, her experiences were made into a TV movie, and she has also been the subject of several Discovery Channel documentaries. Her latest book, No Victims Only Survivors, was published in 2006, and she gives motivational speeches about being a survivor.
The incident that led to the charges being filed and dropped began on the evening of Jan. 25, when the couple met for dinner at a Westside restaurant, arriving in separate cars. After dinner, according to the account Kiley gave police, the couple spotted a neighbor sitting alone at the bar drinking wine. The neighbor, who was going through a messy divorce, asked the couple to join him; Kiley accepted, which, she said, angered her husband.
“Greg got mad and grabbed me by the right elbow and dragged me out of the restaurant squeezing so tightly that it left a bruise and a scratch,” she wrote. “In the parking lot, he began to yell at me, ‘You dumb bitch, all you care about is drinking with hard dicks.’ “
Blackmon and Kiley returned to their stately home near River Crest Country Club, where, Kiley said, the argument continued in the kitchen. She said Blackmon went into the laundry room and closed the door, and she went in after him. “He reached over and grabbed me by the throat with his right hand and choked me. I struggled to get away and fell to the floor, against the washer/dryer, and then the refrigerator,” she said in her statement.
Kiley called 911. In the tape of the call, Blackmon can be heard in the background threatening “You are a dead bitch” if she didn’t hang up. He left the house before officers arrived. Kiley told police that Blackmon had “hit her several times in the past, but she had never called the [police department].”
Police photos taken at the scene showed Kiley had a cut finger, a small cut on her right forearm, and bruises around the knees. Oddly, no photos were taken of her neck, and investigators would not say why, despite the fact that she reported that she had been choked.
A few days later Blackmon was charged with “assault with bodily injury [to a] family member.” He was arrested at his office on Jan. 31 without incident and spent 14 hours in jail before posting bond.
No pictures were taken of Blackmon, since he had left the house before police arrived, and he gave no statement. But he did leave a note in the kitchen a few days later that said, “You started hitting me & scratching & pushing me, and I went into the utility to get away from you & you followed me in there & started hitting, scratching & I pushed you away so you would stop doing it & You Called the Police on Me? You psycho bitch.”
The case was set for trial in July, but prosecutors dismissed the case a week beforehand. The only explanation given in the motion for the dismissal was a check in a box beside the statement that prosecutors “cannot prove [the charges] beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Others familiar with domestic violence cases wonder why the case never made it to court. “It doesn’t sound like normal protocol to me,” to drop this type of case, said Hurst attorney Daniel Bacalis, who specializes in family violence cases. “It doesn’t make sense at all.”
Mary Lee Hafley, CEO of SafeHaven of Tarrant County, a domestic violence counseling and prevention agency, said she didn’t know what caused prosecutors to drop the case. “But our position is that we want as many cases prosecuted as possible. We need to hold the batterer accountable, and batterer accountability should be part of our community response to these crimes.”
Kiley would not comment at length on the case, citing a pending divorce settlement with Blackmon. She would only say that Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry “really screwed me over on how his office handled this case.”
Blackmon’s attorney, Tim Evans of Fort Worth, said Kiley was not a victim in this case. “What we had here was two people who were drinking and yelling at each other. She was the aggressor in this matter. We would have had ample evidence to win.”
Assistant District Attorney Sean Colston, chief of the Family Violence Unit, said he “can’t go into the specific reasons” the case was dropped, but, “We didn’t have a credible case.” He did say that the taped phone conversation and the divorce-case deposition played a role.
In the deposition, taken in March, Kiley said Blackmon had not abused her before the January incident, although some might question her definition of abuse. “He’ll grab me, and he’s very strong, and push me away, and you know, it’s a borderline sometimes, [between] a push and a hit,” she stated. “It’s never an open-handed or close-fisted thing.”
Evans said he made the DA’s office aware of the deposition and his plans to use Kiley’s words in court as a contradiction of her statement to police that Blackmon had abused her in the past.
Blackmon also secretly taped phone conversations with his estranged wife, and tranDELETEs were made available to Colston – and the tape was played for the Weekly. On April 25, Kiley told her husband that if they “come up with a settlement and you and I go our separate ways, I will take care of this matter. OK.” Later she said, “I will call and talk to the people at the DA’s office, OK?”
Despite what Kiley says on the tape, Colston confirmed that she never formally asked prosecutors office to drop the case.
Under the district attorney’s policy, if an alleged abuse victim wants prosecutors to drop a case, he or she must go through three hours of counseling during which legal options are reviewed. Kiley said she was never offered the counseling program – proof, she said, that she did not ask prosecutors to drop the case.
Both Colston and Evans said that Blackmon’s wealth and status were not a factor in the decision not to prosecute. A review of Curry’s campaign finance reports shows no contributions made by Blackmon or Evans, who formerly worked under Curry.
What may have been a factor in the decision to dismiss this case is the sheer volume of domestic violence cases flowing through the court system. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 13,827 domestic violence cases filed in Tarrant County in 2006, the last year reviewed.
Judge Jamie Cummings presides over the Tarrant County court that handles misdemeanor domestic violence case, and she signed the dismissal of the Blackmon case. Her docket “is the largest of any misdemeanor court in the county.” Cummings said in August, with more than 2,000 cases pending, including almost 1,400 set for trial.
That big docket favors the accused who have money to pay for high-priced lawyers, said Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place in Dallas, which oversees programs for domestic violence victims. “[Accused batterers ]with publicly appointed attorneys have many fewer options than those with an expensive private attorney,” she said.
Flink also said anecdotal evidence suggests that the rich often get a pass. “In programs where the accused have to get counseling for their probation, almost all of the people we deal with have a hard time coming up with the $25 a week fee. And I know this is not a crime that is restricted to just the poor” – meaning that the people who could easily afford those fees don’t often go through the court system.
Evans said the “backed-up docket” makes it tough for the prosecutor’s office to try every case. “If they have a case that they know doesn’t have the evidence, it is irresponsible for [the D.A.'s office] to waste their time and the taxpayer’s money to go after some of these cases,” he said.
Cummings didn’t remember the Blackmon case when asked about it by the Weekly. “Sometimes the prosecutors ask for a dismissal,” the judge said. “But with more than 2,000 cases pending, I don’t know who is rich or who is poor.”