LEROY, W.Va. (AP) — A defense lawyer's comments in a high-profile case of abuse and torture in West Virginia could make domestic violence victims think twice about asking for help and discourage bystanders from offering it, an advocate said Thursday.
Peter Lizon, 37, of Leroy is entitled to a strong defense as he prepares a preliminary hearing Friday in the alleged decade-long torture of his wife, Stephanie, said Sue Julian of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Lizon's defense attorney Shawn Bayliss has dismissed claims that Peter Lizon beat, burned and chained his wife, and forced her to kneel in his presence.
"Unfortunately, what happens is that defense attorneys often use the media as a platform to discredit and humiliate victims, as well as programs that help them," Julian said. Focusing on one defendant can make them "somewhat oblivious to the bigger-picture impact" on victims weighing their own options.
Bayliss said he didn't intend to downplay domestic violence, adding that he's represented victims "innumerable times." He said his point was only that the complaint was not made by Lizon's wife, but by someone else.
"My client's spouse has never even filed a petition seeking a domestic violence protective order," he said. "She would say, and he would agree, domestic violence has not been part of their history."
Employees at a Parkersburg rental store told The Associated Press that 43-year-old Stephanie Lizon hid from her husband while he returned a rototiller recently. Police records say she then went to a shelter for domestic violence victims, limping, gaunt and covered in scars, including a burn shaped like a clothing iron.
Peter Lizon faces a preliminary hearing on a malicious wounding charge Friday morning in Jackson County Magistrate Court. He's in jail on $300,000 bond.
Bayliss has called the allegations, which were relayed by a shelter worker, "the fabrication of a fertile imagination or a feeble mind, one of the two."
Peter Lizon denies inflicting any violence on his wife, Bayliss said. When asked how she could have suffered so many injuries, Bayliss said he doesn't know the specifics of those mentioned in the criminal complaint.
"But in the most common terms, not every injury is intentional. Not every bruise is the result of some violent act," he said. "The point of all that is, don't rush to judgment until you know all the facts."
Although Bayliss said he is in contact with Stephanie Lizon, he couldn't say whether she is cooperating with investigators or whether she was back at home when the police arrested her husband. She will not, however, share her story with the media, he said.
The details came out after Stephanie Lizon fled July 2 in Parkersburg, which is about 50 miles north, along Interstate 77, of the couple's home in Leroy. She entered another part of the building while her husband was inside Bosley Rental & Supply and told the staff, "I'm trying to get away from my husband. I just need to hide for a few minutes," one employee told the AP.
The employee declined to give her name, citing concern for her safety and that of her co-workers at the rental shop.
Stephanie Lizon said she didn't want to involve police but accepted the number for the shelter and called it, the store employee said. She also called family to ask for money, and the employees gave her cash and called her a cab.
The woman was limping and had appeared to have some sort of injury, the store employee said. And while her clothing was clean, she smelled bad. The husband did not come inside looking for his wife, and police didn't come until several days later.
At the shelter, however, Stephanie Lizon told another woman about the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband, a native of the Czech Republic, according to the criminal complaint. The wife said her family was from Alexandria, Va.
Stephanie Lizon's father declined to discuss the case, and relatives of her husband didn't return messages.
Investigators said they have 45 photographs showing burns on the wife's back and breasts from irons and frying pans, and scars on her wrists and ankles.
The criminal complaint also says the witness at the shelter said Stephanie Lizon had "mutilated and swollen" feet and said that her husband had smashed her foot with a piece of farm equipment.
The complaint also said she had delivered a fully developed, stillborn child while in shackles, and that her husband buried the corpse on their farm.
Another child survived a similar delivery, but Stephanie Lizon said the child had never received medical attention.
The sheriff's department said state child welfare authorities have been notified, but Peter Lizon's attorney said the 1-year-old boy remains with his mother.
The complaint says investigators confirmed that the wife was treated in the emergency room of St. Joseph's Hospital in June and that photographs were taken at the shelter to document her injuries. A Sunbeam iron was among the items seized during a July 5 search of the couple's home. Lizon was arrested that day.
Julian said many people are now second-guessing Stephanie Lizon's actions, but they shouldn't. Only a victim can decide if it's safe to leave or if fleeing will escalate the violence.
"Leaving does not equate to safety, and a lot of people think it does," Julian said. "Leaving is often the most dangerous time."
Nor is the decision about the timing simple. Among the concerns they must weigh are their own safety, the safety of children, relatives and friends, whether they have a place to go and whether they can survive economically.
"It's very easy for us on the outside to say, 'She should have done this' and 'She should have left' ... when we have never walked a day or an hour in her shoes."
Back in Leroy, only a handful of houses dot the side of the approximately 2-mile road where the couple lives.
In the front yard, signs read "No Trespassing" and "Guard Dog on Duty," although no dog could be seen. One of two brightly-colored barrels was filled with dozens of empty bottles of imported beer near a black van with no license plate.
Nobody answered the door at a neighbor's home.
Cliff Boggess, 62, has lived in the area since 2005 and rode his all-terrain vehicle past the home Wednesday evening.
He said he was shocked by the news and said he's never noticed any human activity at the house.
"Nothing. And I guarantee, that's the same answer you'll get from everybody around here," Boggess said. "This guy ... I've never seen him."
Smith contributed to this report from Morgantown, W.Va.