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In Bid for Protection, Victim Listed Injuries

By Darragh Johnson and David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page B01

In Sheila Taina Menefee's request for a protective order against her boyfriend, filed in a Montgomery County court eight hours before she was stabbed to death Sunday, she described Ruben Antonio Diaz as abusive and said he had made her feel "unsafe."

Diaz, 20, was a foot taller and almost twice as heavy as Menefee, 21, who stood 4-foot-11 and weighed 110 pounds. About 1:30 p.m. Sunday, she told authorities, Diaz attacked her.

"As I was leaving for church, he followed me outside [because] I didn't say goodbye, and then he threatened me," she wrote in the court petition at 5:50 p.m. Sunday. "I was putting the baby in the car seat, and he tried taking my keys."

She said, "that's when I . . . kicked him, and he choked me and shoved me up against the car. He shoved me . . . on top of the baby and enclosed my mouth and nose with his hand. I opened the door and honked the horn while I yelled for help."

When police arrived, Menefee did what domestic violence experts usually advise in such situations: She filed an assault charge against Diaz, then obtained a civil protective order, requiring him to stay away. But later that night, after being released on bail, Diaz allegedly showed up at Menefee's apartment in the White Oak section and stabbed her so many times that police had trouble counting the wounds.

Diaz was charged again -- this time with murder.

"You hear these stories all the time," said Amanda Bowman, a friend of Menefee's. "But when it's a friend of yours. . . . She paused, exhaling loudly and angrily. "It could happen to anyone. It doesn't matter who you are."

Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said thousands of protective orders like the one Menefee obtained are issued in Maryland each year. But Cohen and others said that a piece of paper from a court cannot stop an abusive mate who is bent on homicide.

"There really isn't a way to eliminate the possibility of risk, even if you do everything that's there to do," said Dudley Warner, who works with domestic violence victims for the county's Department of Health and Human Services.

When Diaz allegedly attacked Menefee as she was leaving for church, a witness summoned police. An officer wrote later that he had found Menefee inside the car and Diaz leaning into the car "yelling at Menefee."

"Menefee's 2-year-old son was in the back seat when the altercation took place," the officer wrote in a report. "Menefee . . . stated that Diaz has assaulted her on numerous occasions prior to this incident, but [she] was afraid to call the police and report it. During the conversation, Menefee was crying and shaking."

In her request for the protective order, Menefee accused Diaz -- with whom she had lived since late February -- of inflicting numerous injuries.

"My right arm is scratched in various places," she wrote. "My neck, shoulders and back are bruised, scratched and hurt. Near my ear [is] scratched. My face is scratched. My jaw hurts. The inside of [my] cheek is cut. I can't move my head side to side, and it is difficult to swallow."

The protective order was served to Diaz in the jail at 6:20 p.m., police said. By 9:04 p.m., he was released on $500 bail under certain conditions: "no contact with victim Sheila Menefee. Do not return to 1534 Heathe[r] Hollow Circle."

Menefee, whose divorce from another man became final recently, had joined Heritage Community Church in Severn a few weeks ago. She was looking for housing in Anne Arundel and planned to start working soon as an administrative assistant at a furniture installation company, Bowman said.

Bowman spent Saturday with Menefee and her son at a church picnic. "He was very excited about the sandbox," Bowman said, referring to Menefee's son, who is now in his father's custody. "She really cared about her son."

Just before 2 a.m. Monday, Menefee called police from her home to say that "her boyfriend was banging on her door," police spokesman Derek Baliles said.

He said police arrived at the apartment shortly after 2 a.m. and found the front door locked. But officers found that a "sliding-glass door had been shattered -- totally destroyed," Baliles said. They entered the apartment, forced open the bedroom door and saw Menefee on the bed with stab wounds.

Blood was found on a kitchen knife, police said. Diaz, who police said was in the bedroom, was charged with killing her.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company