Tara O’Shea-Watson, a mother of five, was terrified of her husband, Jeremiah Monell. Her friends say she often ran away from him, and that she was actively trying to leave him and protect her family.
When she was killed, O’Shea-Watson had been in the process of divorcing Monell, and was selling her belongings so that she could move to Tennessee to be closer to her family.
According to the Washington Post, her family believes the courts could’ve done more to protect her.
The trail of domestic violence began months before her death. In April 2016, the Daily Journal reported that Monell had broken into O’Shea-Watson’s house and assaulted her. At that time, she took out a restraining order and filed for divorce.
But in November, the charges for domestic violence and burglary were dropped for undisclosed reasons. The Washington Post implored the state of New Jersey for a reason, but they refused to give a comment on the ongoing investigation.
With Monell out of prison, O’Shea-Watson was afraid for her life. Friends told NJ.com that she tried to leave the state. But the courts ruled that two of her children, who were fathered by Monell, were required to stay in New Jersey as part of the divorce proceedings.
Friend Penny Morey remembers telling O’Shea-Watson, “We all told her to run anyway. To go anyway.” But the mom refused to leave two of her children behind.
Police reports suggest that on the day Monell was served his divorce papers — and just one month after domestic violence charges had been dismissed — O’Shea-Watson was killed in her own home.
On December 19, a neighbor placed a 911 call that was later released by NJ.com. In the call, the man says that one of O’Shea-Watson’s children walked over to his house and said, “Mom’s dead.”
Officials arrived at the scene and confirmed that her death was unnatural; she had been killed. Her death prompted a 15-day nationwide manhunt for Monell. He was later found hiding in the woods in a neighboring county.
According to national statistics collected by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, approximately 10 million women and men are impacted by domestic violence every year.
While there are federal laws that define and legislate domestic violence, most of the cases are handled by the state. Divorce proceedings are often complicated by domestic violence, as the cases straddle the line between family and criminal law.
In an interview with the Independent Journal Review, Bari Z. Weinberger, a New Jersey certified matrimonial law attorney, said that safety is a top priority in divorce proceedings in the state:
“During the divorce process, if the nature of the domestic violence is severe enough to warrant, the courts may enact appropriate safety measures, such as increased security and weapons screenings.”
But safety measures were not enacted in the case of O’Shea-Watson. Friends and family believe the justice department could’ve taken additional safety measures that could’ve saved her life. In an interview with NJ 101.5, her childhood friend, Jen L. Messeck, said:
“She did everything the law required her to do. She got the restraining order. She called the cops when [Monell] broke into the house. She was trying to file for a divorce. She tried to move out of the state and they said no. She did everything they told her to do and it cost it her life.”
The family is now advocating for the passage of a bill known as Lisa’s Law, which would require domestic violence offenders in Ocean County to wear GPS systems that alert the police if the person was violating a restraining order.
Nationally, more than 23 states are currently using similar GPS systems to help protect victims, according to National Domestic Shelters. The programs have been very successful, says Diane Rosenfeld, director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, in an interview with the organization:
“They have had no domestic violence-related homicides in the areas they’ve served in 11 years. It can really save lives.”
Lisa’s Law is currently on its way through the state legislature for the third time, having already failed to pass twice. Weinberger believes the law might have been helpful in the case of O’Shea-Watson:
“What could Lisa’s Law have meant for Tara O’Shea-Watson? Depending on whether the pilot program could have spread to Cumberland County where she lived, the provisions of the law may have been a possibility in her case. However, we will never know. What we need to do is consider is how we can keep victims safe in the future.”
It’s too late for the GPS system to protect O’Shea-Watson, but friends and family are hoping it can protect others suffering from domestic violence. At a vigil, O’Shea-Watson’s mother, Emily O’Shea, shared her inspiration to protect other victims, which was transcribed by The Daily Journal:
“Don’t let this happen to another girl; don’t let this happen to anyone else. We have to be her voice.”
As for Monell, he is currently being held without bail and has been charged with murder. If convicted, he will serve between 30 years to life in prison.