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A Stab in the Dark

Evelyn Moyer claimed domestic abuse when she killed a boyfriend. Then she killed another.


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Evelyn Hopkins Moyer is accused of killing her boyfriend in the most direct and violent of ways: a knife to the gut.

She had her reasons. Friends claim he was stalking her. She filed two police reports saying he attacked her. Her boss saw her with a black eye. While Moyer won't talk about the stabbing in detail, she says her actions were in self-defense.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William D. Mason doesn't buy it. He's charged Moyer, 35, with aggravated murder. And Mason has a trump card that would make any defense lawyer's work difficult, if not impossible. Moyer has killed before. Another boyfriend. With a knife.

Moyer acknowledges the problem her history presents. But in the end, she shrugs. "Lightning does strike twice," she says. The first stabbing, she says, was self-defense too. "It was him or me."

Studies have found that at least 60 percent of women who kill a partner claim abuse at the time of the crime. But there are no statistics on women who've killed two partners. Crime annals cite women who've killed multiple husbands for money, but Moyer's case is different.

So different, in fact, that domestic violence experts can't recall anything like it. "Has it ever happened? I can only think of rare occasions. It's very, very unusual," says Sue Osthoff, director of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women.

"I've never heard of anything like that," says Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. "Never."

Advocates who are normally outspoken wince at the details of Moyer's case. She's articulate and likable, but hardly a poster child for their cause. They've worked tirelessly to correct what they call "the myths of domestic violence." They insist that women who've had one abusive partner seldom choose another. They say women kill out of desperation and fear. They're unlikely to do anything remotely violent ever again.

Moyer doesn't fit the profile. And that makes her automatically suspect. Neylon sees two possibilities: "Either she's a violent woman or she's a victim who's had some really bad luck."

The distance from the house on Dickens Avenue to the corner of East 102nd Street and Mt. Auburn Avenue is one-tenth of a mile.

It was in the house on Dickens that Moyer stabbed Willie Young with a hunting knife. It was in a driveway on the corner of East 102nd and Mt. Auburn that she stabbed Shyrdell Hatcher -- eight years, three months, and 16 days later. Young died on Halloween, Hatcher on the night of Valentine's Day.

Neither place suggests murder. Woodland Hills is not a wealthy neighborhood, but it's a far cry from the bleak HUD projects separating it from downtown. The houses are mostly duplexes with double-decker porches, packed closely but well kept. The street names -- Parkview, Audubon, Forest -- advertise their proximity to the grassy hills of Luke Easter Park.

A pretty, wide-hipped woman with an easy smile, Moyer moved frequently in the last 20 years, but she always ended up back at the big yellow-and-brown house at East 102nd and Mt. Auburn. Her aunt, mother, and stepfather live there; so do her kids. In the back yard is a basketball hoop, carefully fashioned from plywood and a plastic milk crate.

Moyer had her first child, a girl, as an unmarried 19-year-old. Two more children followed within four years. Only one of the three birth certificates lists a father.

In 1991, Moyer's mother and stepfather took in all three, thanks to an anonymous tip to the county's hotline charging that Moyer's apartment lacked electricity, heat, and food, according to court files. The couple filed for guardianship a year later, saying that Moyer was heavily into drugs. (Moyer also bore twins at some point. She says she gave up custody; court files on the matter are sealed.)

In March 1991, Moyer was arrested at Tony's Shop Rite while attempting to cash a neighbor's $413 government check with a fake ID. After she tested positive for cocaine, she skipped a court hearing and became a fugitive.

She surfaced just one block south two years later, in a triplex on Dickens. That's when Moyer's downstairs neighbor, 55-year-old Barbara Teasley, called police to report she'd been stabbed.

Teasley's original police report says Moyer came to her apartment uninvited. When Teasley tried to push her out, Moyer pulled a knife, jabbed her once in the stomach, then fled, according to the report. The knife was never recovered. The wound wasn't life-threatening -- Teasley didn't go to the hospital until the next morning -- but police arrested Moyer for felonious assault.

The case faltered when the grand jury found no probable cause to continue. Teasley says she testified that it was an accident. "She stabbed me accidentally, that was all," she says today. "I am Christian, and I live according to God's word. Once you forgive, you let Him handle it." The two women had been friends, Teasley says. "I used to call her my goddaughter."

Yet Moyer was still wanted for the stolen check. She pleaded guilty to forgery and was given an 18-month suspended sentence and a year of probation.

She was still on probation that Halloween when she plunged a Rambo-sized hunting knife into Willie Young, her on-and-off boyfriend. This time it was serious. Moyer would later detail her attempts to provide CPR, but it wasn't enough. By the time EMS arrived, Young was dead.

Young's brutality had been an open secret in the neighborhood. "He would jump on her in the streets," Teasley says. "He didn't even try to hide it." Moyer was then 27; Young, 45. She says she tried to escape his beatings, but he wouldn't leave her alone. At the time, she was living with her 83-year-old uncle. Young, she says, plied the elderly alcoholic with booze to gain entry.

In a letter she wrote Judge Richard McMonagle from jail, Moyer described efforts to get help. "I'm sure if you check police and hospital records, indicating that my life was in danger, and I had been threatened, then maybe you can understand how the situation came about," she penciled in cursive.

Young once almost sliced off her thumb, she wrote. "I have tried to leave the situation I was involved in. But each time I tried he was always there to retrieve me and I was afraid of what he would have done if he found out I was trying to leave."

That Halloween, Young was drunk and high on cocaine, according to court records. Moyer says he had been arguing with her all night, ignoring her pleas to leave. At one point, he became violent, flushing the contents of her refrigerator down the toilet and tearing up clothes. "That's when he found the tire iron," she says. "I didn't even know it was in there." Filled with drunken rage, he attacked her, the tire iron in one hand and a statue in the other.

During the attack, Moyer's uncle hurried to the police station at East 105th, Moyer wrote to McMonagle; for whatever reason, the police failed to arrive -- until they got a call at 10:30 p.m. saying Young had been stabbed. (Because of the age of the case, the uncle's visit could not be confirmed through police records.)

By that time, it was far too late. Young was lying in the stairwell, dead. Police arrested Moyer in her third-floor apartment.

Despite Young's violent behavior that night, Moyer had several strikes against her. There was the statement she made to police, which made no mention of self-defense. She was already on probation. And there was the Teasley incident. Moyer's court-appointed lawyer, Christopher Fortunato, argued that because the Teasley stabbing was never prosecuted, it was inadmissible and therefore couldn't show a prior pattern.

McMonagle never got a chance to consider the argument. The day after Fortunato's motion, Moyer pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The whole thing happened so quickly that, McMonagle says, he can't remember it today. Moyer was sentenced to 10 to 25 years at the Ohio Reformatory for Women.

Domestic violence advocates began to argue in the 1970s that Battered Woman's Syndrome, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, explains why some women kill their partners rather than leave. But the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that testimony about the syndrome wasn't admissible. In many courts, evidence of past beatings was barred as well, says Cleveland Marshall College of Law Professor Linda Ammons.

A landmark Ohio Supreme Court decision in 1990 changed that, allowing defendants to use experts to explain the syndrome to the jury. Since then, lawyers have also found it easier to introduce claims of prior abuse, Ammons says. But even today, such testimony isn't always included. "It still requires a diligent lawyer," she says.

In 1989, Governor Richard Celeste commissioned Ammons to sort through the files of 103 Ohio women who claimed they killed their partners in self-defense. Ammons was surprised at what she found. "You get the impression that these women were killing men in their sleep," she says. "But many of the police reports indicated face-to-face confrontations."

In some cases, women with compelling self-defense claims had pleaded guilty at their lawyers' urging, Ammons says. Many had been given heavy sentences. Based on Ammons's findings, Celeste offered clemency to 28 women. One who had been sentenced to death was given life in prison. The others were released early.

Moyer says she wanted to take her case to trial, but her lawyer urged her to plead guilty. Confused and alone, she followed his advice. (Fortunato, now a city prosecutor, declined comment.)

But once she was sent to prison, Moyer focused on getting out. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and attended domestic violence programs.

She was eligible for super shock probation after one year. Fortunato submitted a motion on her behalf, mentioning the tire iron attack and praising her progress. She was working on a degree in cosmetology, he wrote, and attending parenting classes. Thirteen months after she was sent to prison, McMonagle authorized her release.

That June, she married a longtime friend, Anthony Moyer. It was hardly a wise choice. She says he was abusive, and his record backs the claim. Several years after the two separated, he would be convicted twice in Stark County on domestic violence felonies and sent to prison. Today he's accused of violating parole, and there is a warrant out for his arrest, according to the Ohio Department of Corrections. He could not be reached for comment.

The couple separated within a year, and Evelyn Moyer began rehabilitation. A psychiatrist diagnosed her with dysthymia, a form of serious depression, and put her on medication. A social worker helped her obtain disability payments. She was soon passing weekly drug tests and going to counseling. She also started group therapy.

Social workers praised her progress. "Her self-esteem and self-confidence have both improved, and she has demonstrated a determination to stay away from the negative influences that used to be her life," one wrote in December 1996.

Moyer's oldest daughter was raised entirely by her parents, but Moyer desperately wanted custody of the younger two. One social worker noted that she hosted them on weekends and talked to them on the phone; "problems" with her mother and stepfather were the only thing stopping her from seeing them more often. (Moyer's mother did not respond to repeated interview requests.)

Moyer petitioned the court to end her parents' guardianship. In a letter to the magistrate, she wrote that she took responsibility for grooming her children and fixing their meals. "I love my children very much, and they also love me. Every day we have a big hug and kiss waiting for each other. I beg you to give me a chance to prove my success and be a parent in my children's life. Please consider my request. You will not regret this decision." In February 1997, the court gave her full legal custody.

Moyer found a job around the same time. She had gotten involved with the TLC A Place Called Home program through her social worker. The program, run by and for mental health consumers, started as a "drop-in center" supervised by Cuyahoga County's mental health board. Now, boasts Director Clemente Powell, TLC does everything from teaching the mentally ill how to do their own grocery shopping to lobbying local businesses to hire them.

Powell hired Moyer as TLC's office manager. "He gave me a chance, and I've been working with him ever since," she says proudly. He praises her as smart and capable.

In 1998, Ohio launched a course to teach the mentally ill "life skills," from understanding their illnesses to dealing with emergencies, says Ellen Stukenberg of Ohio Advocates for Mental Health. Moyer was part of the original group of 21 certified to teach the class to their peers.

Stukenberg later came to Cleveland to observe Moyer teaching. "She's a very dignified person. The people in the class felt they were listening to someone who was able to give them helpful advice."

Isiah Williams remembers thinking Moyer might be "uppity" because of her position at TLC. He was pleasantly surprised. "She was real down-to-earth," he says. Eventually, she told him about the events of Halloween 1993, still visibly upset by the memory.

When Clemente Powell was a child, his mother was beaten by her boyfriend. "If I had been old enough to do something, he wouldn't be living to this day," he says. But when he spotted the man on a bus years later, he found forgiveness. "It's not my job to punish him," he says. "That's not going to heal my mother's pain."

Because of that experience, Powell sensed trouble when Moyer introduced him to her new boyfriend in 2001. Shyrdell Hatcher was slim and nearly six feet tall. Moyer had known him from Mt. Auburn Elementary and West Tech High School. A father of two, he had been paroled in 1999 after serving 10 years in prison for a series of burglaries.

At first, Moyer knew nothing about his record. She only knew Hatcher was funny, clean, and well dressed. "I was attracted to him instantly," she says. When she learned about his conviction and questioned him, he claimed he had taken the fall for a friend. She believed him, perhaps because of her own experience. "You give a person the benefit of the doubt," she says. "Maybe they've changed."

Moyer tried to get Hatcher a job at TLC. "He was showing up for a little while, but they only let you if you show initiative," Williams says. "I guess he was trying to show initiative. Every day she came in, he'd be there with her, because he didn't have nowhere else to go."

Friends began to sense trouble. Hatcher seemed possessive and moody, they say. Powell suggested that Hatcher "wasn't the right thing." Moyer shrugged it off. "He had a lot of problems, but love is blind," Powell says.

In June, Moyer was arrested for drug possession. She pleaded not guilty, and her court-appointed attorney, a garrulous ex-cop named Anthony Nici, took the case to trial. "I believed in her innocence," he says. "I can't say that about most people."

The arrests came after a party at Moyer's house, and Nici is still convinced the crack wasn't hers. "I can read people like a book," he says. "She's one of those rare people who was completely honest with me."

Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan found Moyer not guilty on one count and guilty on another. She was sentenced to two years probation. Nici believes she could have appealed, but she chose not to.

Meanwhile, Moyer was discovering Hatcher's dark side. The charming, funny man she fell for became a "madman" while drinking, she says. "His whole appearance changed." In July, she called police to report that Hatcher had punched her repeatedly after she refused to buy him birthday crack, according to police reports.

Emergency workers took Moyer to St. Luke's hospital, but the police department was powerless to act, says Lieutenant Sharon McKay. Because Moyer and Hatcher weren't living together, the law required police to charge Hatcher with assault, not domestic violence. If a frightened victim doesn't press domestic violence charges, police can do so on her behalf. That's not true of assault, McKay says. When Moyer failed to follow up on her report, that was the end of it.

Friends and co-workers were worried. "When we would drop her off from work, he'd be standing there," says Mark Pernell, TLC's program coordinator. "She came in with a black eye one time, and we said, 'What happened to you?' She said, 'I hit a door.' We said, 'Yeah, right.' We kind of knew."

Moyer told Williams that Hatcher had alienated his family by breaking into their houses and stealing their TVs and VCRs. He had health problems, too. She said he needed a friend. "She was telling me she wasn't messing with him anymore," Williams says. "But she was. She told us it was over, but he was still following her around." (Hatcher's family declined interview requests.)

Moyer says she broke off the relationship for good in January. Hatcher went nuts. He sat in the abandoned house across the street all day and drank, yelling and threatening her, she says. She hired a car to take her to and from work, because she was afraid to walk past him. "I was a prisoner in my own house," she says. "I couldn't even go outside for fear of being jumped on or belittled." Hatcher swore that if he couldn't have her, he'd burn down her house, she says.

Powell heard Hatcher call Moyer at work and threaten her. Co-workers once spotted him lurking in the bushes. "I told her, 'This is a danger for you,'" Powell says. "'You're doing real good, you don't need this mess in your life.'"

Moyer filed another police report, charging Hatcher with grabbing her, punching her in the face, and threatening to "fuck her up" as she walked to the store with a friend. He left only when her friends came out of a bar and chased him away, she says. Moyer signed a complaint, but Hatcher had fled and was never arrested. Because he had left the scene, it was again up to Moyer to pursue the complaint, McKay says. Again, she failed to act.

Moyer was frightened, Williams says. "The circumstances were in her control, but then they got out of control."

Just after midnight on February 15, Hatcher and Moyer got into a fight near her parents' home on Mt. Auburn. Moyer won't talk about what happened next, but McKay says a witness observed the two arguing in a driveway. Then the witness saw Hatcher fall to the ground. Moyer ran. Hatcher died that morning.

Six days later, Moyer turned herself in. She was charged with aggravated murder, as well as being a repeat violent offender. If she is found guilty and Judge Brian Corrigan agrees with the designation, she could face 10 years beyond the 20 years to life for aggravated murder, says Assistant County Prosecutor Rick Bell.

Moyer can't believe she's been charged with murder instead of manslaughter. "This is crazy," she says. "It was self-defense." She's being held in jail on a $500,000 bond.

Moyer's lawyer, Thomas Shaughnessy, did not return repeated calls for comment. At his request, the court hired a private detective to track down witnesses to the stabbing. McKay claims Cleveland Police have an eyewitness, though the only witnesses on the prosecutors' list are police officers and county representatives. Kim Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, declined comment on the case.

The number of men killed by their partners has dropped 69 percent since 1976, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Advocates like Neylon attribute the decrease to resources now available to battered women. "More women are able to get out," she says.

But not all. When Neylon's coalition reviewed cases of women who killed, they found many hadn't used domestic violence programs. "We never advocate killing your partner," Neylon says. "But there are still women who find themselves unable to extract themselves and have to take matters into their own hands."

Moyer jokes that she has a sign on her forehead that beckons abusive men. Her mouth smiles, but her eyes don't. "It's a cycle," she says. "My mother was abused. I kept saying that was the one thing I wasn't going to do, I wasn't going to let that happen to me. But I fell in her footsteps." She pauses, then offers a wobbly smile. "It was repeated."

Her concern is for her 14-year-old daughter. "I've got to break that cycle. I'd die and go to hell to keep her out of this. She realizes the mistakes I've made. She told me she won't make the same mistakes."

Regardless of what happens in court, Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services is working to give formal custody of Moyer's children to her mother and stepfather. The only hitch in finalizing the agreement is tracking down her son's father.

The county acted partly because of the drug conviction and partly because of the murder charge, says Director Jim McCafferty, adding that "other factors" played a role, too, though he won't say what they are. It's clear McCafferty doesn't think Moyer will be home anytime soon. "She's looking at 10 to 25 years," he says. "If she's convicted of a crime and can't be expected to be released in 18 months, we're supposed to consider permanent custody."

Osthoff, of the battered women's clearinghouse, concedes that a history like Moyer's will make it difficult to win a jury's sympathy. "It's very easy to see, in a situation like that, that people would say, Why does she choose men like that? But when you look at the numbers and these guys who are batterers, the question is -- who chose who?"

Moyer's friends at TLC don't blame her for anything. "She's a strong woman, and I guess that day she just got tired of it," Powell says. He remembers Moyer flinching when he touched her bruises. "She killed two guys, but they were guys who try to hurt people. They were two bad men."

The TLC office is so confident of Moyer's return that no one has been hired to replace her, Pernell says. Powell has no doubt she should be acquitted. "She did what she had to do. Anybody can be a killer if you put 'em back far enough."

Moyer knows it's not that simple. "Maybe I should have pressed charges back in July," she says. "They can always say, 'You should have done this' or 'You should have done that.' But they don't know what I had to go through."

Of the 28 battered women Celeste granted clemency in 1989, none have killed again, Ammons says. Only one or two have had minor scrapes with the law.

But Moyer believes that in her case, fate played too strong a hand. "I knew what had happened before, and I didn't want to get caught up in it again." She pauses. She is crying. "I wanted anything but this. Because I knew he wasn't worth it."


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