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'Domestic' Violence Isn't Tame--It's Wild, Ugly Crime

February 09, 1992|Dianne Klein

Anthony Totten, "Tony" to everyone he knows, was upset. So he went to K mart and bought a bolt-action .22-caliber rifle.

A few days later, he surprised his wife with a painted white box outside her gynecologist's office in Huntington Beach. The box was supposed to be a birthday present for the couple's daughter. She would turn 5 the next day, on Halloween.

"You're not going to call the police, are you?" Tony asked Janet Totten, who was five months' pregnant at the time.

No, Janet said that she was not. The temporary restraining order, which legally barred Tony from approaching Janet and their two kids, was meant to "calm things down," Janet said.

Tony seemed pretty calm. He had just asked Janet when their third child was due to be born. Janet agreed to give him a ride. Both of them got in her car.

Then Tony reached inside the white box and pulled out the gun. They struggled. Janet got out, running, screaming to someone watching that she feared for her life.

Tony shot his wife in the back of the head; the bullet entered just behind her ear. He had extra ammunition tucked in his sock.

After he fired, Tony walked up to Janet as she lay bleeding on the sidewalk. He took his foot and nudged her. Then he ran.

Tony, 33, a good-looking guy with a mustache and thick, curly hair, was sentenced to life in prison last month. The charge was attempted murder; Janet survived. The baby she was carrying was born later, full term. His name is Luke.

Tony will be up for parole in about 8 1/2 years.

I remember reading about this in this newspaper. The story of the Totten sentencing was played deep inside. Janet's name was incorrectly printed as Jane. There was mention of Tony's fiancee looking crestfallen. This was the woman Tony called to pick him up after the crime.

On the same newspaper page was a brief account of an Anaheim man arrested on suspicion of killing his wife. "Massive head injuries" was the coroner's cause of death.

The continuation of another story was there too, just above the fold. Brian Framstead got 29 years to life for killing his girlfriend, Tammy Davis, who was also the mother of his little girl. He shot her in the head with a sawed-off shotgun.

Now these stories have faded away. This was just one day in a community's life. Other names, and the sad details to back them up, will take their place.

There will be so many, in fact, that odds are good you will be stumped trying to recall just one. Unless you know these people personally, that is. There is a good chance that you do.

U.S. Surgeon Gen. Antonia Novello says domestic violence, primarily against women, is an important issue of public health.

"Every five years, domestic violence claims as many lives as were lost in the Vietnam War--about 58,000," she says.

The survivors, the physically and psychologically maimed, number much more.

Domestic violence is a term that I do not like. It conjures up inappropriate images in my mind. Domestic makes violence sound less dangerous, domesticated, docile--tame stuff. Murder, assault and rape are not. The difference here is that, invariably, somebody uses the word love.

"I don't know if I could say that I hate him, even now," Janet Totten says. "But I sure don't want to have anything to do with him."

"I still think she had feelings for him, even after he shot her," says Janet's brother, Tim Quick.

We are sitting outside, on a back-yard patio swept by a breeze, trying to dispassionately dissect this monster with so many heads, with the forked tongues, with the penchant for attacking its victims in private. "It's between us" is commonly heard. Between a man and his wife.

"Just because you marry someone doesn't give him the right to beat you," Janet says, except passion is creeping into her voice.

She has been talking about this time and that, about her responses, her "standing up to him," which made the fights worse. It got to where "it was easier not to provoke things," she says. Janet mentions that she started reading a lot--novels, magazines, things to take her mentally away.

She twists at the wedding ring on her left hand, moved to her middle finger. Her divorce is pending; she says she hopes it comes soon.

"In my mind, it was like, 'We had good times,' " Janet says. "He always had the promise and I was always saying OK. You think back, remembering him at his best. That gave me hope."

Janet would always go back. She and Tony were married on Feb. 9, 1985. Janet, 30 now, is still working at the same bank as she was then. Tony, a tile setter, was in between jobs a lot. He wanted Janet to work less. He wanted more money too.

Janet's brother says this: "I think a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that our mom was in an abusive marriage for 21 years."

Janet is in counseling now. "A lot of it is to find out why I accepted so much of his crap," she says.

Her daughter, now 6, sees a psychiatrist once a week. The boys are 1 and 2 years old. Half of Janet's salary goes for child care. She would like to go back to school; she dreams, still, of getting ahead.

"If you don't accept it, it's not right," Janet says. "That's what I would tell people. It is not right. Don't make excuses for people. That is what I did."

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