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Ideastream Public Media is bringing you stories about the surge in gun violence plaguing many Northeast Ohio neighborhoods. Gun violence is not new, but mass shootings and community violence have reached a fever pitch — destroying lives and tearing some communities apart. We're talking with residents, activists, victims and experts about prevention strategies and solutions.

Warrensville Heights man receives life sentence for fiancée's murder as SCOTUS reviews gun rights

A supporter holds a sign during a news conference in support of Amanda Williams, a Warrensville Heights woman whose boyfriend is charged in her murder.
Betty Halliburton
Ideastream Public Media
Hundreds celebrated the life of Amanda Williams during a service at the Word Church in Warrensville Heights last October. Williams was killed by her fiancé, Tirrell Edwards.

A Warrensville Heights man was sentenced Monday to life behind bars with parole eligibility after 24 years for the murder of his fiancée.

A jury previously found Tirrell Edwards, 42, guilty of two counts of murder, two counts of felonious assault and one count of domestic violence in the death of 46-year-old Amanda Williams, according to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. Edwards shot Williams six times in their Warrensville Heights home last fall.

"To say that this is a tragic case is an understatement to say the very least," said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven E. Gall during sentencing. "The loss to this family and the community is immeasurable and there is no amount of time in terms of years that is in any way meant to or equate to the loss of Amanda's life. To do so, or to try to do so, is disrespectful to her memory."

Hundreds celebrated the life of Williams, a popular Cleveland hairstylist, during a service at the Word Church in Warrensville Heights last October.

“I have to live the rest of my life knowing that I wasn't there for my baby,” said Georgia Williams, Amanda’s mother, during a news conference. Williams desperately pleaded for justice for her daughter.

Domestic violence and guns can be a deadly combination. More than half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with a gun, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Nearly half of all women murdered in the United States are killed by a current or former intimate partner, and 50% of these homicides are by firearms.

There are some who want the government to keep guns out of the hands of suspected abusers, but others worry about violating Second Amendment protections to own and possess guns.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case that could uphold or reverse laws that make it a crime for anyone subject to a domestic violence court order to possess a gun. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly 13,000 gun sales each year are blocked due to a history of domestic violence.

Amanda Williams' family
Amanda Williams, a Warrensville Heights resident and hair stylist, was allegedly shot six times by her boyfriend, Tirrell Edwards.

Abigail Moncrieff, a law professor at Cleveland State University, is monitoring the Supreme Court proceedings of the United States v. Rahimi, the case currently pending on the question of gun rights for domestic abusers and the Constitution.

Moncrieff reiterated the opening remarks from the U.S. Solicitor General to the high court last fall.

“As this court has said all too often, the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun," she said.

Melissa Graves, chief executive officer at the Journey Center for Safety and Healing, said her organization's 24-hour hotline and support services reach 20,000 individuals dealing with child abuse and domestic violence in the Cuyahoga County area each year.

“When someone tries to leave a relationship and get away from that abuse, it can be the most dangerous time,” Graves noted.

A woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a firearm, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Because the person that is shooting, is shooting to kill,” said Sheryl Thomas-Washburn, a domestic violence activist who knows the experience firsthand.

In 2006, Thomas-Washburn was on the phone with her close friend, Marcia Bufford, a well-known homeless advocate, when the unthinkable happened.

“Her ex-boyfriend became angry when she wanted to end the relationship. When she opened her front door, he shot her in the head,” Thomas-Washburn said.

Bufford said she is blind in the left eye. She also suffered many other serious injuries, yet the greatest reminder of that horrific day is the bullet that remains lodged in the back of her head above the spine. Doctors deemed it too dangerous to be removed.

“Does anybody deserve to be abused? No, not ever. Is it anyone's fault? No, not ever. But we do have choices,” Bufford said.

The National Library of Medicine said women of color are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than White women. The numbers have dramatically tripled over the last 15 years for Black women killed by a firearm.

Meanwhile, the reality of those statistics hits home for Amanda Williams’ daughter, Tyler, and so many others who have felt the loss of a loved one due to the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence.

“The life of my sister matters and for that, we won't stop until we get Justice for Amanda,” said Nanaka Sleigh-Jackson, of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, at the news conference in support of Williams last fall.

Updated: March 5, 2024 at 8:59 AM EST
March 5, 2024: This story was updated with the verdict in Tirrell Edwards' case.