By Katie Winkler
The headline is all-too-familiar: “Woman killed; ex-boyfriend sought in connection with her death.”
Except this time, it is not just a headline or a news story. This is the tragic murder of someone I loved dearly. Someone I considered my family. A beautiful, vibrant mother, sister and daughter. Funny, intelligent and kind, Leslie Pinkston was genuine and true, a friend to so many people and a caring and loving mother to her beautiful daughter Calie.
She was also terrorized by an abusive ex-boyfriend. Harassed, stalked and threatened via social media, through email, phone and in person, Leslie tried to prevent and stop this behavior on her own and with the help of family and friends. She changed her number, she moved, she stayed under the radar, all in an effort to keep herself and her daughter safe.
When it reached a point where those things were not enough, she sought protection from the police and the courts, pressing charges and obtaining a restraining order.
William Gardner III was a convicted criminal with multiple indications of re-offending. He had prior domestic violence charges, prior threat charges and prior firearm possession charges and was facing more felony stalking and threat charges. He had failed to appear in court on numerous occasions. His prior acts coupled with the current charges clearly showed him as a danger and a threat to Leslie and her family. Yet he was given the opportunity to be released on bail time and time again.
He was released on Friday evening and is believed to have shot her in cold blood on Monday morning.
Why? Why was this man allowed to be freed on bail? Freed on bail so that he could murder as he threatened to do? Why are we as a society OK with the fact that our domestic violence and anti-stalking laws protect the perpetrator more than they do the victim? Why are we content to continue to release dangerous criminals and refuse to hold them accountable for their actions?
Further, Leslie was never notified of his release, never even given the chance to protect herself from the ambush that took her young life and robbed her innocent 6-year-old daughter of her mother.
Unfortunately, the justice system failed her and failed her daughter, just as it fails countless other women who die at the hands of their abusers. Where do we stop and say enough is enough? How many women must die and how many children be made motherless before we say no more? Before we say we will not allow abusers to go free so they can kill? Before we say, stricter laws, higher bails, stiffer punishments?
This story will fade as new stories take its place, another shooting will occur, another tragedy will take the headlines for a while and this beautiful life that was extinguished too soon will be forgotten, except by those of us privileged enough to know and love her.
I say that this story must be told and re-told. Leslie’s death will not be in vain. We will not rest, we will not be silent and we will not allow this tragedy to be forgotten. Laws must change to protect the innocent people — the wives, the mothers, the daughters.
Every day in this country, on average three women are murdered at the hands of their boyfriends or husbands. Every 12 seconds, a woman is abused. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. As a society, we should be incensed by this, we should be disgusted by this. And we should not sit idly by and allow it to continue.
I implore everyone to stand up for what is right, stand up for justice and fight for the rights of women to be protected and safe from cowards like William Gardner III and other abusers. Write your congressmen, write your senators, demand that abusers are held to higher standards. Demand notification be made to victims before perpetrators are released. Demand no bail for cases like this, and if bail is granted, demand ankle monitoring or other surveillance to protect the victim.
Do not re-elect judges who release these criminals and endanger the lives of innocent victims. Do not re-elect district attorneys who refuse to prosecute these crimes vigorously. Do not re-elect lawmakers who refuse to pass stricter laws for abusers.
Leslie Pinkston was a beautiful soul, a bright light in a dark world, and she will be missed tremendously by all those who knew her. She was not just another statistic; she was a real person, with a family and friends who loved her. She was a beloved mother with a beautiful daughter whom she adored. She was a beloved sister, a daughter, a cousin, an aunt and a friend. And she deserved better than this.
She deserves justice.
— Katie Winkler, a resident of Antelope, is a former colleague and longtime friend of Leslie Pinkston.