A Woman's Gutsy Legal Battle Ends, But Her Crusade to Protect Others Continues
Of course, you can't put a dollar figure on what Vernetta has been through—the death of her daughter, the extent of her injuries, and how her family was altered. "More important than dollars and cents is that on some level justice has been served," says Linger. "With the decision, the police department is not acknowledging they did anything wrong on paper at least, but I think the facts and outcome speak for themselves. Anyone who looks at the specific details of this case will see that the end result was a long time in coming, and what really impressed me about Vernetta is that she immediately went into advocacy mode, being a support to other victims and looking for the systemic gaps and how we can fix them."
One such systemic gap directly resulted from her legal battle. When her case was heard by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2006, even though they gave her the right to proceed with the case, they interpreted a section of the law to be a discretionary, not mandatory, provision. Where it said that if a person violated a protective order he or she would be arrested, the court felt the wording was ambiguous and didn't mean a police officer must make an arrest. This year, with renewed light on the case, Representative Earline Parmon in the North Carolina General Assembly filed a bill on April 13th to clarify it; House Bill 1464 passed on May 14th and it awaits a vote in the state senate.
"The legislators, my fellow colleagues, were really taken back and surprised that the court made that decision based on the language, so they were very eager to ensure the meaning would never again be mistaken," says Parmon. "I wanted to make sure that we got this done because it was a very tragic case, and it never should have happened. The abuser should have been arrested, and the police had plenty of opportunities to do it and for some reason didn't."
The bill was supposed to be voted on earlier this month, but it has been pushed back on the senate voting schedule. Parmon, Linger, and Cockerham are all optimistic the bill will pass, thereafter becoming a law. Vernetta hopes it can be named in Candice's honor; Parmon feels this would be possible and appropriate.
One of Cockerham's lawyers, Harvey Kennedy, sees Cockerham's case and the new bill as part of a general trend to strengthen domestic violence laws. "I think a lot more cases in the future will be successful and the law is continuing to develop in this particular area."
As for Vernetta, she plans on finding new ways that she can help out both big (building a family court near Jonesville) and small (counseling other victims). Linger doesn't see an end to the possibilities: "I've been doing this for years in a state coalition, and I'm beyond impressed with her. She is a perfect example of an advocate for domestic violence. She has done everything right, and the most important thing she's done is that she never gave up."
Read Vernetta's full story