Should strangling be a criminal offense?

Editor’s Note: The sexual assault victim wanted her story to be known to show the importance of passing this law. FOX 8 does not typically identify victims unless they wish their story to be known.

MEDINA, Ohio (WJW) – Ohio’s legislative session ends in a little over a month.

Domestic violence survivors are watching closely for legislation that would increase penalties for strangling.

“The look in someone’s eyes who’s purposely trying to smother you; it won’t let you down,” said Jess Patz, a domestic abuse survivor who says she married her abuser when she was 22.

Patz said the mental and physical abuse, including strangulation, began before the Wooster couple took their vows. Five months after the wedding, Patz found the courage to leave but said she was still not sure.

“We swapped the kids and he again strangled me with them right between us,” Patz said. “My colleagues kind of forced me to go to the police station because I had his fingerprints around my neck. And he was arrested. He was charged with domestic violence. He had previous felonies from other crimes but it was not a violent crime. So it was a misdemeanor and it was brought down to disorderly conduct and he walked out of court with a $50 fine.”

Strangulation is a crime in 49 states. Ohio is not one of them.

There have been several attempts to change this: the latest Senate Bill 90, introduced last year. The bill’s co-sponsor, State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), told FOX 8 that lawmakers have until the third week of December to pass it.

“If someone is convicted of domestic violence, there is a way to convict them by simply increasing the offense of strangulation. It really means that the perpetrator will spend some time in prison, separated from his victim,” Senator Antonio said.

Antonio also said the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have met to agree on the language in the bill. She is cautiously optimistic that her testimony could help the legislation get out of committee.

“Any time strangulation is committed as a violent act and the victim survives,” Antonio said. “She, and usually she is, has a 700 percent chance of actually being murdered by this perpetrator in the future.”

Focusing on the potential for future violence is extremely important for Patz. After the offense, her ex-husband remarried. His second wife, Angie Miller, told FOX 8 he also strangled her. Many times until she passed out.

One night, Miller says her ex-husband’s actions landed him in jail.

“He came down the steps and he had his belt in his hand and he grabbed his belt and he wrapped it around my neck and he strangled me with his belt,” Miller said.

When Miller regained consciousness, she said her ex threatened her.

“He told me to be honest with myself or he would kill me,” Miller said. “Again he thought I was cheating on him. I was not. I told him I was being honest. So he grabbed the belt and put his foot on my chest and he pulled the belt again and strangled me again and this time when I woke up I was scared. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it through the night.”

Miller was strangled three times that night.

She said her ex-husband repeatedly hit her, broke her nose and then sexually assaulted her. Miller later decided to grab her car keys and run. Shortly after she got behind the wheel, he jumped on the hood.

“I told him, ‘I’m not quitting, I’m not quitting. I have to go,'” Miller said. “He got on my car and stomped on my car’s windshield, but I rolled down my window, stuck my head out the window and drove to the hospital myself.”

Miller and Patz’s abuser is currently serving consecutive prison sentences. Ten years for rape, five years for kidnapping, and five years for assault. Years after the conviction, both women are hoping lawmakers will pass Senate Bill 90.

“Please remember that lives are at stake as you vote and it has been numerous attempts and several years that we could have already made a difference but we did not,” Patz said.

Click here for more information on Domestic Violence Assistance.