Loni Amber Turner was afraid. An ex-boyfriend she’d met online wouldn’t leave her alone. He sent her text messages. He watched her apartment. He showed up at the trade school where she was a student.
“I am really afraid to come out of the apartment ...” she wrote in a petition for a domestic-violence injunction last week.
On Monday, Turner’s body and that of her ex-boyfriend Erin Ross, 27, were found in Room 7 of the Town & Country Motel in Port Orange. They had been shot to death, police said.
When 22-year-old Turner disappeared Sunday, police knew immediately for whom to look: Eight days earlier, Turner went to the South Daytona Beach Police Department, saying that Ross was stalking her. Two days later, she went to the Volusia County Courthouse in Daytona Beach and asked a judge for an injunction, an order for Ross to leave her alone.
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Circuit Judge William A. Parsons said no. Turner had failed to prove she was in imminent danger, he wrote. He ordered Turner and Ross to come to court in two weeks and lay out their evidence.
This fatal shooting, and others in recent years, point out the limits of injunctions and their ability to keep victims safe. But injunctions — or restraining orders — depend on the compliance of a sometimes-angry boyfriend, ex or spouse. And in the end, they are just pieces of paper.
The case of 23-year-old Alissa Blanton of Cocoa was eerily similar to Turner’s.
Blanton was killed Feb. 8 when a man who had been stalking her confronted her in the parking lot near where she worked — an AT&T call center near the University of Central Florida — and shot her to death. The week before, she had asked a circuit judge in Brevard County for an injunction against her stalker, Roger Troy, 61, of Cocoa Beach.
Circuit Judge Dean Moxley said no, that she didn’t have enough proof. He ordered them both to court in two weeks to review the evidence. Eight days before that hearing, Troy shot and killed Blanton, then himself.
Both Blanton and Turner had filled out paperwork asking for temporary injunctions — then passed the packets of information to a judge they never saw. The judges made their rulings based solely on what the women had written. And some judges say that if there is not clear evidence of impending danger, the best thing to do is bring both parties to court and let them present their cases.
“When you’re the petitioner, the burden of proof is on you,” said Laura Williams, executive director of CourtWatch, a volunteer organization that monitors domestic-violence court cases.
Include specific acts and specific dates when asking for an injunction, she said. If someone else saw what happened, include that person’s account.
If you were bruised or cut, take photographs and include them, she said.
Carol Wick, chief executive officer of Harbor House, Orange County’s domestic-violence shelter, said her agency can counsel women on how to properly petition the court.
“We always tell people even though some (injunctions) get denied and some people with them still get killed, the vast number who get them, it protects them,” said Wick.
“Once that person is served with that injunction, it deflates them,” said Orlando attorney Michael Rathel, who sought and won a domestic-violence injunction against radio personality Shannon Burke last year after Burke shot his wife. “They also know if they do something, they’re under a microscope.”
It’s not clear how many Volusia County domestic-violence petitioners get temporary injunctions like the one Turner was seeking, but in Orange County, 83 percent do, said Heather Wilkie, court services manager for Harbor House.
Why didn’t Turner get the protective order she was seeking in Volusia last week?
Parsons was out of the office Monday, but his written order was clear: Turner had failed to prove she was in danger.
Ross hadn’t hit her. He hadn’t threatened her. He hadn’t been violent. What Ross had done, she wrote in her petition, was watch her, call and send her text and video messages. He also had shown up, unwanted, at the beauty school from which she hoped to soon graduate.
Those things, according to family-law experts, are not enough.
If you want a court order, you must show you are in real danger of being hurt, said Rathel. You also must show that the person you fear intends to harm you and is capable of doing it.
Seminole County Judge Carmine Bravo said that in stalking cases, he looks for an explicit claim that the woman has told the man to leave her alone and he has refused.
In general, Bravo said, deciding whether to issue a domestic-violence injunction, based solely on a petitioner’s paperwork, is difficult. Some petitioners are just angry and have no need for protection, he said.
Turner and Ross met online in January, and although she ended the romance in April, they were still occasionally intimate, she wrote in her petition for the injunction against him filed Aug. 23. The next day, Ross got notice that he had to appear in court and explain his behavior.
What happened next is not clear. Five days later, on Sunday, Turner disappeared at about 5:50 a.m. as she left for her 6 a.m. shift at a Daytona Beach nursing home.
Police then began their search for her and Ross.
They didn’t know it yet, but Ross had checked into the hotel Saturday, Port Orange police Capt. Frank Surmaczewicz said.
On Sunday night, both Turner and Ross were both still missing and South Daytona Beach police issued a statement asking for help.
“Mr. Ross had also told Ms. Turner that if he could not have her, he would kill her and then take his own life,” it said.
Hotel guests heard gunshots between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Sunday but didn’t report them. About 10 a.m. Monday, hotel staff members discovered the bodies.