In 1981 Shirley Lute was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole for 50 years.
In 1986 Lynda Branch was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole for 50 years.
Both were domestic cases.
In the Lute case, she is not accused of firing the shot that killed her husband. Her son pleaded guilty to that. However, her son also said that she had pushed him to kill her husband due to abuse they alleged that he committed. She has always denied any role in the murder. Later the son said that his mother was not involved and had no part in the murder.
In the Branch case, she alleged that she and her husband struggled over a gun that he had pointed at her on a night that he had been drinking, that he had threatened her and her daughter and that the gun had fired and he had been hit. She was the first one in the state to use the battered women’s defense.
Both women claimed abuse at the hands of their husbands. Both went to trial and both were convicted. Both have been in prison more than 20 years. Shirley Lute is now 76 years old, Lynda Branch is now 54 years old.
In 2004 the state governor ordered their sentences commuted making them eligible for parole. However, both their parole bids were denied. Both women sued.
Earlier this month the state Supreme Court ordered the parole board to set release requirements for Lute and to make a decision about Branch.
The parole board has now made a decision to release both women on parole and the release is due within the week.
Lynda Branch spoke with the media about her release and one thing she said really stuck out for me
*“People don’t realize how important their freedom is until they lose it. And mine means everything to me,”
In another interview she said
**”I was so devastated that I was almost praying that I would die. It was like.. you know.. anything would have been better than living through this, but I can’t leave,”
“I stayed for many reasons like a fear of failure. I’d already failed in one marriage.”
Though free of the prison, both women will be subject to parole restrictions.
Branch has said that after her release she wants to become a paralegal and to volunteer at a domestic violence women’s shelter. She also wants to talk to high school students about domestic violence.
Being in an abusive relationship can feel like a prison. But there is a difference. You can choose to leave an abusive relationship and make a new life for yourself elsewhere. You cannot choose to leave a prison. You can choose to leave the control of a husband or boyfriend. You cannot choose to leave the control of the justice system.
Most victims will attempt to hide any abuse or will downplay it. Thus when it ends up in court it can be hard to document it. Even if that can be documented, it can be difficult to prove self defense. And it can be hard for a jury to dismiss the other choices available to battered women.
Before anyone is killed or maimed is the time to make choice to leave.
If you are in an abusive relationship, stop to think. You may have valid reasons for staying, but if you knew of someone else who was in your situation- let’s say your sibling, your best friend or your child- what would you advise them to do?