Cherelle Baldwin on Being Found Not Guilty for Defending Herself Against Abusive Ex
In a Democracy Now! exclusive, Cherelle Baldwin joins us for her first interview since a Connecticut jury found her not guilty in the death of her abusive ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Brown. According to court documents, Brown had repeatedly threatened Baldwin, took her credit cards and money, and assaulted her during visits to see their son. Baldwin eventually attained a court order barring threats, harassment and assaults during visits, but Brown continued sending Baldwin threatening text messages. Then, according to a police affidavit based on Baldwin’s statements, Brown showed up at her house, climbed through her window and attacked her, choking her with his belt. Baldwin escaped and managed to get inside her car, but so did Brown, who again choked her. What happened next is hard for even Baldwin to remember, but when police arrived they found Baldwin on the ground with a broken leg, and Brown was lifeless in front of the car, pinned against the garage wall. Baldwin was eventually arrested on murder charges. Since the incident, Baldwin has spent nearly three years in jail, held on a million-dollar bond. A first trial in 2015 ended in a hung jury and was declared a mistrial. Prosecutors then moved to retry Baldwin. The jury reached its verdict on Thursday, hours after her mother appeared on Democracy Now! The case has caught the attention of domestic violence organizations nationwide, who cite it as an example of how black women are disproportionately imprisoned when they defend themselves against domestic abuse. "When I received letters, I would cry. So many women told me different stories, how they were in my situation. I didn’t know so many women were going through that," Baldwin says. "Especially at a young age, it touched me a lot. I had so much support that I didn’t even know I had. It helped me a lot while being incarcerated." We are also joined by Baldwin’s mother, Cynthia Long, and her defense attorney, Miles Gerety.TRANSCRIPT
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now to today’s top story. The verdict: not guilty. That was the decision of a Connecticut jury Thursday in the murder trial of Cherelle Baldwin. We first reported on the case yesterday, just hours before the jury acquitted Baldwin, a 24-year-old mother. She was charged with the 2013 killing of her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Brown, who Baldwin says had stalked and abused her.
According to court documents, Brown had repeatedly threatened Baldwin, took her credit cards and money, assaulted her during visits to see their son. Baldwin eventually attained a court order barring threats, harassment and assaults by him during his visits, but Brown continued sending Baldwin threatening text messages. Then, according to a police affidavit based on Baldwin’s statements, Brown showed up at her house, climbed through her window and attacked her, choking her with his belt. Baldwin escaped and managed to get inside her car, but so did Brown, who again choked her. What happened next is hard for even Baldwin to remember, but when police arrived, they found her on the ground with a broken leg, and Brown was lifeless in front of the car, pinned against the garage wall. Baldwin was eventually arrested on murder charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Since the incident, Cherelle Baldwin has spent nearly three years in prison, held on a million-dollar bond. A first trial in 2015 ended in a hung jury, 11 to one, was declared a mistrial—in her favor, the 11 to one. Prosecutors moved to retry Cherelle. After the non-guilty verdict was read, Cherelle Baldwin fell to the floor sobbing, saying, "My baby is going to get his mommy back." Jeffrey Brown’s father, Jeffrey Hines, said he respected the decision of the jury. He pointed to a class ring he wears which has a symbol of the scales of justice and said, "They made a decision. That’s it."
The case has caught the attention of domestic violence organizations nationwide, who cited the case as an example of how black women are disproportionately imprisoned when they defend themselves against domestic abuse.
Well, today, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, Cherelle Baldwin joins us in our studio for her first interview since being freed yesterday. Also with us is her mother, Cynthia Long, who we spoke to yesterday on Democracy Now! in Bridgeport, but today she is with us in New York, and her attorney, defense attorney Miles Gerety.
Thank you so much for joining us, all. Cherelle, welcome to the free world.
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes, thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you feel when you heard that verdict yesterday in the Bridgeport courtroom?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: I just, like, collapsed. I just—I couldn’t believe it. When they said "not guilty of all five accounts," I just—it was just like God sent an angel down and saved me. It was amazing.
AMY GOODMAN: You had been in prison for nearly three years—
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —awaiting this trial.
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What’s it been like, in terms of—you have a five-year-old son. How were you able to maintain relations with him during that period of time that you were in prison? And what’s been his reaction now that you’re back out?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Well, he hasn’t seen me yet, but I’m going to see him on Monday. But I would see him twice a month up at York CI correctional facility. And the whole time, he thought I was at school. He didn’t know that I was in jail, because we wore like burgundy shirts and jeans, so he thought I was at school. But he said to me last weekend, he was like, "Mommy, when you come home, we’re going to play Lego Batman." And I said, "I promise you, when I come home, I’m going to play Lego Batman with you." And I’m going to keep my promise. When I come home Monday, I’m going to play Lego Batman all day with him.
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia Long, we spoke to you yesterday just before the verdict. We didn’t know how long the jury would be out. But what was your response?
CYNTHIA LONG: I was just totally overjoyed. And I was so happy, because I believed that my daughter was innocent the whole time. And I am just so grateful that the jury got to hear her side of the story and that, you know, they made the right decision. It just overwhelmed me, you know, with tears, because there are so many domestic violence victims out there that are still struggling in the jail for fighting back. And, you know, I’m just so grateful that everything turned out well for Cherelle.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Miles Gerety, could you talk about how you got involved in the case and also the significance of the case, especially in light of the fact that there was this history of abuse that existed beforehand, why the prosecutors even attempted a murder conviction?
MILES GERETY: I got involved when I was told about the facts of this case. And Cherelle had a nice, really good lawyer, but who hadn’t tried any murder cases. So I got involved for the first trial and then again for the second trial.
You know, battered women, when they step out of the role and defend themselves, there’s a lot of prejudice. I mean, a lot of jurors, a lot of men especially, can’t—once a woman steps out of that role, will think, "Oh, she’s not battered," or see avenues of escape. You know, Cherelle was in her bedroom. And you mentioned a window, but we don’t know how he got in. Cherelle was in her bedroom, was attacked in her bedroom, choked and whipped horrifically. I mean, she’s got—not even noted, by the way, when she got to the hospital. She crashed her car into a cement wall going 21 miles an hour, 30.8 feet per second. So she’s concussed. She wakes up next to the car, not really knowing what had happened, because she had retrograde amnesia. Because she didn’t know how it happened and what had happened, the assumption was that she was lying. And so, you have this woman who—one of the nicest, sweetest people on Earth, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, who is desperate to get back to her child, to save her child. You know—
AMY GOODMAN: Because her baby was inside.
MILES GERETY: Inside, crying, when she left. And the thing that gets me—
AMY GOODMAN: He was what? Eighteen months old?
MILES GERETY: Eighteen months. And when Cherelle—OK, there’s a thing called the castle doctrine in most states. You have a right—you don’t have to retreat from your own home. The court ruled, in two trials, that as soon as she stepped off her porch, as soon as she stepped out of her house, that doctrine didn’t apply, which would mean if a woman was attacked in her home and thrown out the window, when she’s on the grass of her neighbor, suddenly she doesn’t—her duty of care towards her attackers has changed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And even though her garage is part of her home.
MILES GERETY: Right. And what a lot of women’s groups are saying, first place, there ought to be a virtual castle doctrine. If there’s a court order saying you’re not to be attacked, you’re not to be harassed, you ought not to have the duty to retreat. And, you know, as much talk as there is of "Stand Your Ground," this is a situation where Cherelle, being slight at the—you know, smaller than Jeffrey Brown, not having—you know, women are likely to own a gun a third as—you know, three times as many men have guns. If she was bigger and stronger and beat him to death in her apartment, she never would have been charged. But as soon as she leaves her home, they changed. And that’s wrong. I mean, that is really—that law needs to be changed. And, you know, it’s amazing to me that in 2016 we’re still dealing with the societal pressures, you know, where if a woman defends herself, suddenly she’s complicit in her battering. And, you know, this is really a problem.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re—
MILES GERETY: And it—I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, we’re also going to talk about what this $1 million bond was. I mean, a year ago, another trial was deadlocked, 11 to one in Cherelle’s favor, and she had to remain in prison simply because she could not afford the bond that a more well-off woman could have afforded. Cherelle Baldwin is with us. Not guilty on all counts was the decision of the jury yesterday in the death of her abusive ex-partner. We’re also joined by her mother, Cynthia Long, and her attorney, Miles Gerety. We’ll be back with them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Aaliyah, "Never No More," here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. A Democracy Now! special today: Cherelle Baldwin is free. After nearly three years in prison, she was found not guilty on all counts in a second trial in the death of her abusive ex-partner, who choked her, went after her. Ultimately, she ended up with a broken leg, he ended up dead, and their, that time, 18-month-old baby inside alone in her house. We’re also joined by Cherelle’s mother, Cynthia Long, and Cherelle’s attorney, Miles Gerety. She was found not guilty just yesterday in a Bridgeport courtroom and is here in New York with us today.
Cherelle, what happened on the day of your abuser’s death did not start on that day. You had gotten an order of protection. Where were the police through this period, if he violated this order of protection a number of times?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: I can’t—the police, I don’t think they really cared too much. And like, basically, it was always pats on the back, like it wasn’t nothing—they didn’t take domestic violence serious at all. So, they probably would think, "He would never hurt her, or he would never try to kill her." But on May 18, it became like a life-or-death situation.
AMY GOODMAN: You had gotten texts before he even came to the house?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes. And I told him, I said, "If you touch me, I’m going to call the cops on you." He kept threatening. He said he’s going to kill me, my family. It was horrible.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And interestingly, or ironically, you had tried to get help for him, right?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Because you had—you realized that he had had a terrible childhood and problems in his own life that made him so violent.
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes. I spoke to a domestic violence advocate, and I told him, I said, "Is there any way you can get anger management for him?" I said, "He’s abusive. He’s violent toward everything. I don’t know why he’s so upset. All I’m doing is trying to help him." And they just totally ignored it, gave him a conditional discharge and basically a pat on the back, "Go about your life."
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia Long, when your daughter was arrested on first-degree murder charges and they set a million-dollars bond, was there any chance you could raise that?
CYNTHIA LONG: No, not a million dollars. And it’s usually like, I think, 10 percent of that; it’s like $100,000. It just was no way. The home value in Bridgeport is not even close or nearly to that much, if we had to put up the home. So, it was nearly impossible for us to do that, so we had to kind of wait, you know, until she had a trial.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Cherelle, I wanted to ask you, what’s your response to the enormous support that you’ve gotten from survivors’ groups around the country? And were you surprised by that and how much of a cause your case became?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes. When I received letters, I would cry. So many women told me different stories, how they were in my situation. And, you know, I didn’t know as much women was going through that. And especially at a young age, it touched me a lot, because I had so much support and—that I didn’t even know I had. It helped me a lot while being incarcerated.
AMY GOODMAN: The text he sent you that morning, before he came to your house, said, "DOA"?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes, "You will be DOA on sight."
AMY GOODMAN: Dead on arrival?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes.
MILES GERETY: Twice.
AMY GOODMAN: Two of those texts.
MILES GERETY: Yeah.
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Miles Gerety, talk about this million-dollar bond, even after the first trial, 11 to one in her favor.
MILES GERETY: I should be careful what I say, but I was incredibly disappointed. It should have been lowered. The fact that they tried her a second time on murder, when you had a jury, but for one holdout, who really—the jury at one point wrote a note and said he wouldn’t really negotiate or—at any rate, it was incredible.
But I did want to make one little point. The reason they would not put Jeffrey Brown in some sort of anger management, domestic violence program—and some of them last 52 weeks; and Jeffrey was really troubled, I think he may have had intermittent explosive disorder—was because he was a convicted felon. That’s absurd. The reason for these programs is not just to help the guy, which 90 percent of the time it’s a man, but their future intimate partners. And I mean, so, because—and Cherelle, not a convicted felon, Cherelle, who was working a good job and trying to make it as a single mother, could—didn’t get help. He needed help, and she begged, repeatedly, to get it. And they said he was a convicted felon, so they just let him plead to a crime. That is absolutely stupid. It’s really a mistake. And yeah, these programs actually do work, a lot of the time. And so it was a real tragedy.
You know, she loved Jeffrey Brown. This was not—you know, women who are battered began with a relationship, during a honeymoon phase, with someone who was charming and nice. And Jeffrey Brown could be charming and nice. But he had a real problem. He must have been exposed to something Cherelle herself had been, and Cindy had had a bad marriage with an abusive husband—not Bernard Baldwin, but somebody else. And, you know, this pattern repeats and repeats.
What got me about her case is it seemed the police investigation was geared to do one thing: to basically prove that everything she said was a lie. And she was wrong. I mean, he didn’t get through a window, but he had done that once before. And after hitting your head and being concussed and having amnesia for a while, retrograde amnesia, she didn’t know what had happened. So, part of my argument to the jury was: What if she didn’t remember anything? Would the police have spoken to her father and found out that the baby was left alone, the covers were torn off the bed? Would they have—would they have, you know, done any of the things to say, well, how did he really get in the house? Jeffrey Brown was parked 468 feet, a football field and a half, away from her house. He had sent her texts that morning saying "DOA on sight, DOA on sight," other things that basically threatened everybody was going to get killed. Just the same, Cindy offered the police—they didn’t find her cellphone, the family did—offered the police this phone, and nobody wanted it.
AMY GOODMAN: You, Cindy—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me ask you, there was the—
AMY GOODMAN: I just want to ask that one point on the phone. You offered the police Cherelle’s phone?
CYNTHIA LONG: Yes, I did, in the hospital. After I saw the text message, I offered them the phone.
AMY GOODMAN: So they took it as evidence?
MILES GERETY: No.
CYNTHIA LONG: No. They said there was no need for it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about this whole issue of specific Connecticut laws in terms of domestic abuse cases, where police officers in Connecticut disproportionately end up arresting both—both people in a home when they go. Could you talk about that and what the—
MILES GERETY: OK, historically—look, Connecticut has the best domestic violence expert in the world, Evan Stark. He’s the guy—he’s the reason people talk about domestic violence. And so, Connecticut does have a law that arrests have to be made. The problem is, battered women frequently depend on their batterer to help support their children. You know, there’s this whole relationship. And battered women frequently don’t—they don’t want the guy to go to jail. They want him to get help. So, Cherelle’s situation was typical. What’s so frustrating about it is, because Jeffrey Brown was a convicted felon as a young man, he wasn’t offered help.
And then, when she—when this happened, the presumption seemed to be that she’s lying about what happened. Nobody thinks, if you’re in your bedroom and you say somebody came in the window, a window you can’t see, then maybe you’re wrong. You know, when you have a witness who can’t see what they’re allegedly talking about, you say, "Well, maybe they’re wrong." Nobody thought, "Hey, she hit a windshield at 21 miles an hour. She ran out of her home barefoot in a nightgown and without glasses," which Cherelle is not wearing now, but Cherelle is as close to—she’s minus-four. She’s really, really nearsighted. She hit the sole side of her house, just bouncing off. You know, the top speed was 21, but the car started at zero, then nine miles an hour, then 16, then 19, then 21. Those are second intervals. And the thing about it that to me is so incredible, he was riding the hood. This is somebody—the fireman said he had the belt he had been beating her with, it wrapped in his hand, in his lifeless body. I mean, if that doesn’t tell you she’s been robbed and she’s been beaten and she’s a victim—
AMY GOODMAN: Cherelle, what would you say to prosecutors around the country about prosecuting women in your situation?
CHERELLE BALDWIN: I believe that they should investigate more, don’t just assume. If they see if a woman—if a woman been through domestic violence, look at the history. Look at the evidence that’s right there. They didn’t even—clearly, they didn’t in my case. They ignored text messages. They ignored ropes. They ignored everything. And I believe that they shouldn’t prosecute women that’s trying to get help. I tried my best to do everything, and it didn’t work. It just was just me for defend myself. I just don’t understand. He pleads guilty, but don’t get no prison time? And then, as soon as I defend myself, they want to give me up to 60 years? It just—I don’t understand it at all.
AMY GOODMAN: How do class, race and gender fit in, Miles Gerety, into determining whether domestic violence, how domestic violence survivors are treated?
MILES GERETY: Well, domestic violence itself is an equal opportunity provider. But there—I have no doubt that if Cherelle Baldwin was living in a million-dollar house in Greenwich and this happened, versus, you know, her grandmother’s two-family in Bridgeport in an industrial area of town, the investigation would have been a lot different. And, you know, here’s somebody who never had been in trouble. When she met Jeffrey Brown, he said his name was Jarell Brown and told her he worked in a warehouse nights, when he was really a drug dealer. But she was pregnant by him before she even knew who he was. And, I mean, it’s just a tragedy. And clearly, minority women pay the strongest—the greatest price. And the notion that because a guy’s a felon we’re not going to get him treated is crazy, just crazy. So it’s OK if she’s beaten, if she’s whipped, because we’re not going to get people treated.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cherelle, what are your plans now? You’re just freed less than 24 hours at this moment.
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Yes. Well, my plans are to just—my son. My main—get my life together for my son. You know, he’s been without me for two-and-a-half, almost three years. And it’s just—I’m just so happy to—you know, because I fought for him. There was times I—there was times I felt like giving up, but I looked at his picture every day, and I said, "I’m going to go home to you. I’m going to fight for you." And it’s just—it’s going to be hard trying to get my life back together, but, you know, I did this for him. I had to. The reason this situation happened, you know, is—I’m going to get myself together for him.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all very much for being here and sharing your story. And congratulations on your freedom.
CHERELLE BALDWIN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve been speaking with Cherelle Baldwin and her mother, Cynthia Long, as well as her attorney, Miles Gerety. Cherelle Baldwin is free, after almost three years in jail facing 60 years in prison for killing her abusive ex-partner as he came to her house to attack her, sending texts that said "DOA, DOA."
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