By Jeff Lehr
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A friend of Monica Webb thinks the violation of the slain woman’s protection order by her estranged husband was not taken seriously enough by Joplin police and the Jasper County prosecutor’s office.
The fatal shooting of the 36-year-old Joplin woman by her estranged husband Nov. 17 has raised questions about the legal system’s ability to safeguard domestic-abuse victims who seek the protection of police and their local courts.
Monica Webb reported that Rondias Webb, 35, violated a protection order Nov. 4 when he approached her in a bar and informed her that he knew where she had moved to get away from him. That report was made less than two weeks before he allegedly shot and killed her inside her new home.
The alleged violation led to the mailing of a summons and not the issuance of an arrest warrant.
Rebecca Joice-Moore, a former co-worker of the slain woman, said she doesn’t think her friend’s case was taken seriously enough. Joice-Moore said she realizes there are those who abuse the system by filing “silly” complaints. But when someone violates a protection order, it needs to be taken seriously, she said.
“I just think it shouldn’t be handled through the Postal Service,” she said.
Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said this past week that the reason a summons was issued in lieu of a warrant was the lack of any physical contact during the alleged violation.
“There was a verbal statement between the two in a public place,” Dankelson said. “That’s why a summons was issued and not a warrant.”
He cited a Missouri Supreme Court rule that states a summons shall be issued in misdemeanor cases unless the court has reasonable grounds to believe a defendant will not appear in court or that the defendant poses a danger to the victim, the community or any other person.
Dankelson acknowledged that the preceding alleged domestic assault Sept. 23 might be interpreted as grounds to believe Rondias Webb posed a danger to his wife. He is accused in that incident of tackling her, picking up a rock and threatening to kill her. Dankelson said his office tries to discern prevention issues in all cases, “and this is one of those cases that certainly brings that issue to light.”
But there is no guarantee that issuing an arrest warrant would have prevented Monica Webb’s death, Dankelson said. If the husband had been arrested, he would have had an immediate right to bond and may well have bonded out, the prosecutor said.
Lane Roberts, Joplin’s police chief, made a similar observation about the case in a separate interview last week.
“I think that speculating whether an arrest would have prevented this is a reach because we don’t know how long he might have been in jail,” Roberts said.
He said there is additional uncertainty in how long it may have taken police to locate the husband and arrest him. As it was, an arrest warrant was issued for Rondias Webb on Nov. 7 when he failed to appear at a court hearing in Neosho on the September charge, and that warrant had yet to be served when Monica Webb was killed.
Roberts said thousands of warrants are in the local system at any given time. He said just because this particular warrant had not been served in 10 days’ time does not mean it was being ignored or that the case was being given a low priority.
“That just means no officer had come in contact with him yet,” Roberts said. “If they had, then it would have been served.”
Protection-order violations in domestic-abuse cases are given some priority within the system, but domestic assault cases tend not to be “homogeneous,” Roberts said. He said some entail more urgent circumstances than others.
Roberts said the courts will sometimes send an alert with the warrants they issue if an imminent threat is perceived. No such alert was attached to the warrant issued by Newton County Circuit Court, he said.
Jasper County Judge Joe Schoeberl suggested that the case may point out a need for better information sharing between counties. The domestic assault took place on the Newton County side of Joplin. The alleged violation of the protection order took place in Jasper County.
The judge said he is prohibited by court rules from commenting on pending criminal cases. But in domestic assault cases in general, a judge is obligated to set a bond amount that protects a victim when the defendant has made a threat to kill or seriously injure them, Schoeberl said.
The judge said the difficulty comes in discerning if an alleged threat is simply careless rhetoric or bravado, or an expression of true intentions. He said a judge’s options are to set a bond hearing on the matter or to ask a mental health professional to examine the defendant and determine if the threat is serious.
Joice-Moore acknowledged that an arrest might not have prevented her friend’s death. On the other hand, it could have provided “a cooling-down period” during which Rondias Webb might have adopted a different attitude, she said.
Joice-Moore worked with Monica Webb at the Joplin Health Care and Greenbriar nursing homes in past years. She said Webb, a certified nursing assistant, was “good at her job” and loved by the patients she tended. More recently, Webb had been working at Spring River Christian Village and at the Sliver Creek Assisted Living Center.
“She was just an effervescent bubble, just full of life,” Joice-Moore said. “If she was having a bad day, it never lasted very long.”
She said that during the time she worked with her, Webb did not appear to be a battered woman. She thinks the troubles with her husband were a fairly recent development.
Court and police records show a misdemeanor domestic assault in December 2011, but nothing between that and the September incident.
Jennifer Aguilar, another former co-worker at Greenbriar, described her friend as a “fun-loving and outgoing” woman who took pride in her work and in her three children from a prior relationship.
“She loved everybody. She had a nickname for everybody,” Aguilar said.
She said Monica Webb was looking to start over following her separation from Rondias Webb.
“She wanted a new beginning, a fresh start,” Aguilar said. “She did everything in her power to try to make that happen, but he was not going to let that happen.”
She said that Monica Webb had let Aguilar know about a week before she was killed that she thought her husband had followed her and knew where she lived. She didn’t tell her much more than that. She said Monica Webb didn’t want her friends to worry about her and tended to keep details to herself.
Aguilar said she is having trouble realizing that her friend is gone.
“I still find myself reaching for my phone to text her or to call her,” she said. “Just her voice could cheer you up. She was always smiling.”
Rondias Webb shot himself after he allegedly shot and killed his wife. He survived the shooting and is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.