William Bryant Moseley of Malden was already a known risk when he was arrested in 2011 for punching his girlfriend, Cecilia Yakubu, in the eye. Moseley had served 11 years in prison for shooting his then-wife in the face in 1996. With Moseley’s documented history of domestic violence, the 2011 arrest should have triggered a severe response. Instead, Moseley went free — and, the following year, strangled Yakubu to death.
Moseley was able to escape punishment in 2011 in part because of a glaring loophole in Massachusetts criminal law: a provision that allows courts to dismiss some assault and battery charges if both parties agree to set the charges aside. The option to reach an "accord and satisfaction" agreement may make sense for a minor altercation like a bar fight. In the case of domestic violence, though, state law should recognize that there's no even playing field between victim and abuser. Many women come under enormous pressure to reconcile with their abusers, and may not be in any position to resist demands to sign such agreements. The state should take away the option.
At the same time, lawmakers should also increase the penalties for strangulation. Moseley's means of attack was sadly common: A shocking number of domestic violence cases involve strangulation. And past strangulation attacks are among the best predictors of future domestic homicide.
Right now, however, Massachusetts law doesn't treat strangulation as a separate offense. Prosecutors can charge it as assault and battery, which is only a misdemeanor, or as attempted murder. There needs to be some middle ground: It shouldn't be necessary to prove intent to kill to punish strangulation more harshly than an ordinary assault. The Legislature should embrace legislation introduced by state Senator Katherine Clark and state Representative Cory Atkins to upgrade strangulation to a felony, punished by up to five years in prison.
Together, the two proposals wouldn't stop every assault. But they would give prosecutors more tools to reduce the chance that abusers like Moseley are set free to kill.