Crawford Sentenced in the District of Montana for One of First Strangulation Convictions in the Country
The United States Attorney’s Office announced that ZACKARIA JULY CRAWFORD, 22, of Browning, Montana, was sentenced to a term of 30 months’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release, and a special assessment of $100 during a federal court hearing in Great Falls, Montana, on March 18, 2014, before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris.
This is the first case in the District of Montana that a defendant has been sentenced for Strangulation since the inception of the statute. It is also one of the first such cases in the entire country.
U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said the conviction and sentence of CRAWFORD represents the office’s dedication to working with reservations to ensure that Native American women and families are protected from domestic violence. “The strangulation statute and VAWA offers the U.S. Attorney’s Office another tool to fight crimes of domestic violence that are inflicted against women and children on Indian reservations. Victims of one episode of strangulation are six times more likely to be a victim of attempted homicide by the same partner. These same victims are seven times more likely to actually die at the hands of their loved ones. It is this type of violence that tears apart families, damages children, and can have lethal consequences. The ability to now charge crimes of strangulation will help in stopping violence before it escalates any further.”
On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed into law the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This law contains provisions that significantly improve the safety of Native women and that importantly allow federal and tribal law enforcement agencies to hold more perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes. Many of these critical provisions were drawn from the U.S. Department of Justice’s July 2011 proposal for new federal legislation to combat violence against native women.
The tribal provisions in VAWA address three significant legal gaps by: (1) recognizing certain tribes’ power to exercise concurrent criminal jurisdiction over domestic violence cases, regardless of whether the defendant is Indian or non-Indian; (2) clarifying that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to enforce protection orders involving any person, Indian or non-Indian; and (3) creating new federal statutes to address crimes of violence, such as strangulation, committed against a spouse or intimate partner and providing more robust federal sentences for certain acts of domestic violence in Indian country.
These steps have been taken, at least in part, because a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that 46 percent of Native American women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
CRAWFORD was indicted on December of 2013 by a federal grand jury. He filed a motion to change his plea in January of 2014. That plea was accepted by Judge Morris on March 14, 2014.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan G. Weldon, the government stated it would have proved that CRAWFORD strangled his victim until she lost consciousness and urinated in her pants. The beating continued for approximately 20 minutes. The victim ultimately escaped the house, but CRAWFORD jumped onto the vehicle hood as the victim drove away. CRAWFORD eventually fell off the hood, and the victim went to the hospital, where she was treated for strangulation. At sentencing, Weldon stated, “Deterrence of these crimes in society, as well as the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, is critical. To deter these crimes will help to save future lives, properly punish defendants who engage in such conduct, will protect women from future abuse by the defendant, and will help end the cycle of violence that currently exists in and around Montana.”
Unfortunately, the impacts of strangulation do not only exist in Montana. They are widespread across the United States. Victims of strangulation have testified before the United States Sentencing Commission, explaining the circumstances behind strangulation and the impacts that such acts leave. One victim explained her experience as follows:
I write to provide the Commission my experience as a crime victim who experienced strangling and suffocation.
After two years of marriage filled with verbal abuse, shoving, and other physical abuse, one night my husband threw me down on the bed and began strangling me. Unlike any other way that he had attacked me in the past, this horror instantly sent me to a level of terror and trauma I had never known in my whole life. I knew I was seconds away from dying. This was a fear unlike anything I had ever known. Everything was suddenly different in my whole consciousness. I was going to die. The unthinking rage in his eyes made that clear.
He had even pulled a gun on me once, slapped me black and blue, but nothing felt as scary as this. There was that first part of the attack that so utterly terrified me as I anticipated my imminent death, panicking with what I could do. The fighting for freedom, the pain of his hands around my neck. Then as I began to suffocate, I could feel myself dying. Gasping for breath, desperate for air. Feeling myself slipping away, so fully conscious and hyper aware. And watching him—how personal the rage was. How he was using his bare hands to kill me—it was so intimate, he was so close to me. His skin on my skin. Like drowning, trapped in the water beneath the ice, the panic, the desperation to breathe, yet not being able to.
He felt me going limp and thankfully let go. I coughed myself back to life. What I learned in the days and the weeks after was the on-going and constant re-traumatization of the aftermath of the strangulation. For weeks, every time I moved my head, I was grabbed with pain. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat or drink well. Every move was a painful reminder. I had to take time off work without pay to cover up the worst of it, then I had to lie to deal with answering questions about the bruises, etc., at my teaching job. The aftermath was a constant reminder of what had happened. [Twenty] years later it is as vivid to me as any moment of my life.
The neck is so easy to grab, so vulnerable, so vital to all life, connecting breathing and heart to mind. The viciousness and harm of this terroristic act is far different than mere broken bone or a physical injury. I have suffered the range of these injuries and nothing comes close to strangulation and suffocation in sheer terror.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the truth in sentencing guidelines mandate that CRAWFORD will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, CRAWFORD does have the opportunity to shorten the term of custody by earning credit for good behavior. However, this reduction will not exceed 15 percent of the overall sentence.
The CRAWFORD investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.