CLEVELAND — In the wake of the Gabby Petito case, there’s a renewed push for a law in our state that News 5 investigators have been following from the start— Aisha's Law.
Fraser was the Shaker Heights teacher killed in November 2018 by her ex-husband, Lance Mason, a former Cuyahoga County judge and state legislator. Mason was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35-years.
State Representative Janine Boyd (D) of Cleveland Heights, who has been in contact with Aisha’s family, says they are still rallying for change.
“I had a really good conversation with her mom this summer to give her an update,” Boyd said. “I told her… we're not done. We just keep pushing.”
Aisha’s Law or House Bill 3 would make strangulation a felony as records show Mason had strangled Aisha years before he took her life. Currently, it is only a felony in 49 states. Ohio is not one of them.
“I think it made it the most difficult for us to pass is the language around strangulation,” said Boyd.
We’re told being strangled makes a victim 750% more likely to be murdered. In addition, stranglers don’t only murder their intimate partners. They’re tied to the murders of police officers who respond to calls and mass shootings. Records show the suspects behind the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the First Baptist shooting in Texas and mass shooting in Dayton were all accused or convicted stranglers.
Aisha’s Law would also expand the definition of aggravated murder to include previous domestic violence convictions. Police would be required to conduct lethality assessments to determine how much danger victims are in and connect them to services providing safety planning. According to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, 131 people in Ohio were killed in violence cases in the last year. Of those, at least 20 perpetrators had already been charged with or convicted of domestic violence prior to the deadly incident. However, the law didn’t make it through the Ohio General Assembly in 2020. Boyd says the pandemic is partly to blame for delays in addition to the opposition.
The Office of the Ohio Public Defender, which is a part of those opposing, sent News 5 this statement:
“The Office of the Ohio Public Defender is not opposed to making strangulation a new offense or part of the domestic violence statute. We are not opposed to strangulation being a felony. OPD just wants the penalty to fit the crime. If an individual causes no injury and never intended to cause injury – the offense should not be a Felony of the Third Degree. Under House Bill 3, the offense of domestic violence by strangulations does not include any requirement that the individual intended to cause harm or injury. Impeding breathing by covering another’s nose and mouth is sufficient for conviction. This language is too broad and will encompass less culpable and innocent actors. For example, mothers who shush their children by covering their mouth and nose or brothers who grab each other’s neck during a wrestling match. This behavior does not warrant these individuals becoming felons.”
Boyd says her team and the survivors who have helped shape House Bill 3 have agreed to one last compromise by changing from the term recklessly causing to unknowingly regarding the definition of strangulation. The change could lead to a hearing next week and a vote on the Ohio House floor before heading to the state senate.
Domestic Violence Resources
24-Hour Domestic Violence Helpline: 216-391-HELP (4357
24-Hour Family Helpline: 216-391-4357
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233.