ASSUMPTION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Life behind bars is what's ahead for a man who pleaded guilty Monday to beating his wife to death in 2015, but the shocking case has inspired action and change.
Investigators with the Assumption Parish Sheriff's Office reported Monica Johnson, 45, was attacked by her estranged husband, David Johnson, in her Geismer home and beaten to death with a baseball bat. Her eldest son was also hurt in the attack as he tried to help his mother. At the time, Monica Johnson had a restraining order against David Johnson, who, records show, had tried to strangle her in a dispute over a cellphone.
Two years later, David Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for her death.
"The family is extremely relieved and grateful it's over," said District Attorney Ricky Babin.
He said cases of domestic violence are especially frustrating and tricky to navigate. He added he is pleased with the guilty plea, but the case still ended with a homicide. It's not the only one.
The Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that Louisiana ranks second in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men and that the large majority of those are domestic homicides. Louisiana's rating of domestic homicides has remained one of the highest in the country for 20 years, according to LCADV interim executive director Mariah Wineski.
"The especially frustrating part of that is the rest of the nation, over 20 years, has seen a decline in their domestic homicide rate and ours has stayed relatively stable," said Wineski. "Clearly, we're doing something wrong."
She said Louisiana can help prevent domestic homicides by doing more to hold abusers accountable earlier.
"What that takes is a coordinated community effort that prioritized victim safety at all points," Wineski explained.
Fortunately, there are some changes taking place. For example, after Monica Johnson's case, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office starting using a risk assessment on suspected abusers in the field. If the risk for more violence is high, extra steps can be made to protect the victim. A judge can also use the assessment to determine bond or restrictions on bond.
There are also new laws that expand the definition of domestic violence to include dating partners and same sex partners, along with changes to old laws that make it harder for suspected domestic abusers to bond out of jail.
In East Baton Rouge, the district attorney's office launched a Hospital Violence Intervention Program to reach victims sooner.
"We come in, we talk to that person, we explain the program," said EBR victim services program director Kristin Raby. "If it is a victim of domestic violence, we're going to do everything we can to put safety measures in place."
However, Louisiana still has a long way to go. Wineski said the state has many shelters that do great work in helping and supporting victims of domestic violence, but there are not enough beds. Each year anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 people statewide have to be housed somewhere else because their nearest shelter is full.
"If we can create a culture that prioritized that safety net, we're going to be better off," Wineksi added.
If you or someone you know need help in a domestic violence situation, contact one of these organizations:
Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence - 1 (888) 411-1333
Iris Domestic Violence Center - (225) 389-3001 or 1 (800) 541-9706
Life Family Outreach - (225) 772-2441
David Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 11, 2017.