Each year, Los Angeles County courts handle more than 20,000 cases of felony domestic violence. Experts consulted by the Los Angeles Times were hard pressed to find another case in which the system so failed the victim as the killing of Monica Thomas-Harris by her estranged husband. “This was a complete screw-up from beginning to end,” said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl. “Judges around the state were stunned that this could happen.” The case might lead to a reexamination of how the justice system deals with domestic violence cases.
The district attorney’s office did not seek a criminal protective order against Curtis Harris, who had a history of escalating violence toward his wife. When the 34-year-old ex-con agreed to plead guilty to false imprisonment and possession of a firearm, the prosecutor and judge did not postpone the sentencing so those more familiar with the facts could review the deal. After the plea agreement was reached, the judge and prosecutor took the virtually unheard-of step of permitting Harris to leave jail, either ignoring or missing a probation department report that declared him “unsuitable” for release. A court spokesman said: “the D.A. says on the record we are agreeing to an [own recognizance] release. So what is the judge going to do?” Domestic violence experts questioned why the probation department’s recommendation against release did not carry more weight.