Alcoholism made domestic abuse victim more vulnerable, her family says

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2013 - 12:32 AM

Her family says her death illustrates link between domestic violence, chemical dependency.

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Troy Shaw held a picture of her aunt Nerissa Shaw, allegedly beaten to death by her boyfriend Walter Thompson. The family is telling her story “for the next woman,” said Shaw. “Because there will be another one.”

Photo: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER • reneejones@startribune.com,

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Nerissa Shaw’s niece pleaded with her for years to stay away from Walter Thompson III, a man who never tried to disguise his propensity for beating, terrorizing and isolating his on-and-off girlfriend.

But she considered the black eyes and busted lips collateral damage from a pull she couldn’t resist — not her love for the man now accused of killing her, but for the alcohol he provided.

The 46-year-old Minneapolis woman’s brutal death in mid-September was the state’s 33rd domestic homicide of 2013, a year in which several Minnesota women have died, allegedly at the hands of their male partners. Her case put a grim limelight on the link between domestic violence and chemical dependency.

Still, Shaw’s family said that despite a decades-long struggle with alcoholism, their aunt and sister’s story is more than just a cautionary tale.

“She was a human being,” said her brother, Ronnell Shaw, 48.

“It’s also for the next woman,” added her cousin, Troy Shaw, 51. “Because there will be another one.”

Thompson, 54, is jailed on second-degree murder charges that accuse him of punching, kicking and stomping Shaw to death. Days later, he allegedly recruited his sister and daughter, Senaca and Rachel Thompson, to help him dump her naked body behind a St. Louis Park industrial business, where it was found Sept. 17. Both are also charged with felony accomplice after the fact for their alleged involvement.

Walter Thompson’s criminal record dates back to at least 1990, with convictions ranging from domestic violence and drunken driving to criminal sexual conduct.

Shaw’s death followed a five-year relationship with Thompson, who boomeranged in and out of jail for repeatedly beating Shaw and breaking into her apartment so many times that she was evicted. He was charged at least five times with violating a protective order she took out against him.

Again and again, prosecutors were forced to dismiss charges when Shaw failed to show up in court as a witness. Prosecutors were able to convict him last year only when police caught him in the act at her apartment. He served five days in jail and two years’ probation with an additional six months’ jail time hanging over his head. A protective order Shaw took out against him lapsed in May, but another no-contact order was still in effect as a condition of his probation.

Richfield City Attorney Martin Costello declined to discuss Thompson’s history at length, citing the ongoing murder case. However, he said police and prosecutors “did all that we reasonably could,” when it came to prosecuting Thompson. However, unless he was caught in the act of violating the order, it was necessary for Shaw to serve as a witness. She also rejected help through Cornerstone, an advocacy service that aims to prevent domestic violence.

Two weeks before her death, Shaw showed up at the St. Paul home of her niece Amber Shaw, her face again swollen and battered.

“She said, ‘Niecy, I’m not going back to him. I can’t go back,’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it; we’ll get you clothes; we’ll take care of you,’ ” Amber Shaw said. “When she went back to him, I guess … that alcohol was calling her.”

Troy and Ronnell Shaw say they never knew the extent of the abuse Nerissa suffered, and that if they had, things would have turned out differently. They realize Shaw had some responsibility to help protect herself, they say, but wish the state would have moved forward with its prosecution of Thompson even without her assistance, and put him in prison.

“That’s what the laws are for,” Troy Shaw said. “To protect someone in this situation.

Like gas to a fire

The link between alcohol and domestic violence has long been established, but one doesn’t necessarily beget the other, said Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

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