Inmate Freed by New Battered Woman Law

Times Staff Writers

A Los Angeles woman set free by a judge after serving 17 years in prison for killing her abusive husband will not be retried, prosecutors announced Friday.

In October, Marva Wallace, 44, became the first inmate released from custody under the provisions of a new state law regarding battered women’s syndrome. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court. In exchange, the district attorney’s office agreed under a plea bargain not to try her again for the 1984 slaying.

Judge David S. Wesley proceeded to sentence Wallace to eight years in prison, but said she would remain free because she had served more than twice that time behind bars.


“I just thank God for this moment,” a beaming Wallace said outside the courtroom, as her jubilant mother and other family members gathered around her. “It’s been a long time coming.”

“I’m not angry about it or anything, because ... I was guilty of murder,” added Wallace, the mother of two children, ages 21 and 25. “Now I can really get on with my life.”

Her mother, Deloris Wallace, said Marva’s imprisonment was like “losing my right arm. Now, I have my right arm back. I didn’t think I would make it through all these years, but somehow we made it to this day.”

Wallace’s release was the first under the new law that allows inmates to file petitions for new trials in cases in which evidence of battered women’s syndrome was not allowed during their original trials.

The law, enacted in January 2002, applies to women convicted before 1992, when California courts began allowing expert testimony about battered women’s syndrome.

A second woman, Susan Deering, was released in San Mateo County in December after serving 23 years for a 1980 murder conviction. Several more petitions are pending across the state.


Sue Osthoff, director of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, said Wallace’s case is just a start.

“When you look at the number of battered women in prison, this screams out for major change,” she said. “While I’m thrilled that a woman was able to get some relief after all this time, there are just so many women who are deserving of relief and have been trying to get it for many years.”

In October, Gov. Gray Davis had rejected a recommendation by the state Board of Prison Terms that Wallace be paroled. Two weeks later, Wesley took his action under the new law.

On Friday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn Brougham said she agreed to the plea bargain after considering the fact that Wallace’s lawyers had had no chance to call experts on battered women’s syndrome.

She said such experts could have explained crucial facts, including why Wallace never called police or why she was afraid to leave her abuser.

“At the trial in 1984, there was no such thing as battered women’s syndrome,” said Brougham, a prosecutor in the district attorney’s family violence section.


Now, she said, people understand that battered women are paralyzed by fear and are controlled by their abusers. “The jury did not have that education,” Brougham said.

Medical experts say the syndrome is a behavioral condition affecting people suffering a pattern of violence that leaves them feeling powerless and who may eventually resort to suicide or homicide.

In Wallace’s situation, the beatings, which started two months after her marriage to Glendell Boykin, left her bruised and bloodied, according to court papers. Records said Boykin regularly used cocaine and would not give Wallace money to support her children or allow her to work. Wallace has said Boykin threatened to kill her if she left him.

She killed him on April 21, 1984, shortly after he slapped her and made her perform oral sex while her 2-year-old daughter watched, court records say. Boykin was lying on the floor either asleep or watching television when Wallace shot him three times in the back of the head, Brougham said Friday.

After the shooting, Wallace testified, she felt scared, ashamed and degraded and admitted she tried to hide the slaying from her family. She also acknowledged that she at first denied to police that she killed her husband and failed to tell them that she had been forced to perform oral sex.

Wallace, who has a high school education and had no previous criminal record, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 27 years to life in state prison.


Judge Wesley ruled in October that Wallace had been a battered woman under the law and that the outcome of her trial would have been different had evidence of the syndrome been presented to the jury. He ordered a new trial.

After approving the plea agreement Friday, Wesley looked directly at the defendant and said, “Ms. Wallace, good luck to you.”