11:30 on Thanksgiving night, shots rang out in Debi Zuver's
apartment in a quiet Santa Rosa neighborhood. Kim Garloff, Zuver's
ex-boyfriend, was shot and later died of his wounds. Debi Zuver
is in Sonoma County jail charged with murder in his death. Zuver,
a 36 year-old restaurant worker, had ended a relationship with
Garloff just a few months before the shooting. Neighbors say
the couple had argued earlier that night.
had a history of criminal convictions. He was due to stand trial
in January on three felonies related to the manufacture of methamphetamine.
As that trial neared, Garloff reportedly became increasingly
freaked out and controlling of Debi, who was to be a witness
in the case -- perhaps the only thing standing between him and
a long prison term. His threats to kill became more frequent
and more graphic as the trial date approached.
the Real Victim?
Although there is no record of previous reports to police of
Kim Garloff's violence and threats against her, friends and
other witnesses affirm that Debi Zuver is a domestic violence
victim, now charged with the murder of the man who had terrorized
her. Purple Beret advocate Tanya Brannan visited Debi in jail
just days after her arrest and noted extensive bruising on Debi's
arms and abdomen -- fingertip-sized bruises up one arm, a bruise
in the mid-stomach the size and shape of a fist.
In a criminal
justice system that is no more gender-blind than it is color-blind,
the chances that Debi Zuver will get a fair hearing may, to
a great extent, depend on us.
in a country where women who kill their batterers are likely
to do far more prison time than do the men, often life-long
batterers, who murder their innocent female victims. Unfortunately,
there are indications that we may have a ringside seat to such
unequal justice right here in a Santa Rosa courtroom.
another upcoming homicide trial, that of Dr. Louis Pelfini,
Debi Zuver's case promises to provide a striking study of the
effects of class and gender on the criminal justice system's
perception and prosecution of domestic violence.
Murder of Janet Pelfini
In late December 2000, Louis Pelfini, a Petaluma doctor, was
charged with the murder thirteen months earlier of his wife,
Janet Pelfini. One November night in 1999, Louis Pelfini called
911 to say that his wife had committed suicide. When asked by
the dispatcher, "How do you think she took her life?" Pelfini
responded: "She stuck her head in a bucket of water."
to prosecutors, however, forensic evidence shows Janet Pelfini
was smothered by someone holding something over her mouth and
nose, and marks on her body led to the conclusion that she was
assaulted. Police at the scene had noted that her head and clothes
were dry. There was no water on the ground around the bucket
or her body. The autopsy later showed no water in her lungs,
ruling out death by drowning -- "suicidal" or otherwise.
Pelfini was not arrested that night, or after the autopsy results
came in, or even after he reportedly failed a lie detector test.
In fact, Janet Pelfini's death didn't even immediately launch
a murder investigation. Why? Because, according to prosecutor
Brooke Halsey, "The detective was taken with his [Pelfini's]
status in the community ..."
more than a year would pass before the Sonoma County Grand Jury
finally indicted Pelfini in the murder. (Even then, the local
newspaper report of the indictment included seven paragraphs
on what a great guy the doctor is, while portraying the murdered
victim as a belligerent alcoholic.)
high-priced lawyer argued against high bail, telling the judge
Pelfini was not a man of means but a "simple country doctor."
When the judge refused, Pelfini posted the $750,000 bail that
day and is free pending trial.
represented by the public defender, has been in jail since the
night Kim Garloff was shot, and will likely remain there until