(WPRI) — Stacie Desantis Dorego was murdered by her common-law husband, Donald Greenslit, in one of the most tragic crimes in recent memory. Now, her sister is calling for change in how we all view cases of domestic violence. We’ve also learned that Rhode Island’s largest advocacy group is pushing for a new law to help victims in abusive relationships; hoping to stop cases like Stacie’s before it’s too late.
Jami Oullette Morse says a radiant smile is what she wants everyone to remember about her sister, Stacie Desantis Dorego.
“She was a special person,” Morse said. “She was really happy, always smiled.”
But those smiles often masked the reality of a relationship riddled with violence.
Stacie and Donald Greenslit had been together for about eight years, and had two children together. When asked if she remembers meeting Greenslit for the first time, Morse answers, “I do. I remember my family and I met him and thought he was sort of a bizarre character.”
And as Morse would learn, Greenslit was dangerous. On a snowy January night in 2012, in one horrifying final act violence, he stabbed Stacie to death, dismembered her body, and set fire to their Johnston home in an attempt to cover up his crime. The couple’s five- and three-year old children were in the house when their mother was killed. They were hospitalized for smoke inhalation from the fire their father set.
“He is a monster,” says Morse. “Absolutely. He killed my sister and his children would have died in that house if it wasn’t for the firefighters and the neighbors and the police. Yeah, he’s a monster.”
And now Greenslit is a convicted killer. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2013. His nine-day trial was the first time Morse realized how much her sister had suffered.
“There was a lot of violence in the home and we had no idea,” says Morse. “She hid it all.”
But there was a paper trail of violence. Greenslit’s criminal record included three arrests on domestic assault charges against Stacie. When asked if the system failed her sister, Morse responds, “I believe it did. There’s got to be a better way.”
Eyewitness News checked, and it wasn’t hard to find several other cases like Stacie’s in Rhode Island. She had a “protective order” against Greenslit at the time of her murder; an order that was supposed to keep him away from her. Court records show last year alone, more than 800 protective orders were violated in Rhode Island. And so far this year, there have been six domestic homicides. That’s twice the number from 2014.
We asked Deborah DeBare, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, if the state is behind the times when it comes to domestic violence laws. She answers, “You know, with all the tragedies we’ve seen this year, the number seems staggering here, it might be easy to think that. But sadly enough we are viewed as one of the states that has one of the best responses in the country.”
DeBare tells us the agency is proposing legislation that would require dangerousness hearings for people facing domestic violence charges; like the charges Donald Greenslit faced three times before he finally murdered Stacie Dorego. “There’s new evidence that shows that we can actually use some of these assessment tools and help judges make better decisions,” says DeBare, “so we don’t let people out on bail who shouldn’t be out on bail.”
The law would also require a dangerousness hearing for anyone who violates a protective order. “When someone violates a court order,” says DeBare, “that’s one of the warning signs that this is one of the most dangerous and volatile situations.”
The Coalition is also pushing for a domestic violence prevention fund. Under the proposed law, a fee would be added to marriage licenses that would funnel about $250,000 each year toward prevention programming. “I feel very strongly that the burden shouldn’t be placed on the victim to protect herself,” says DeBare. “The burden is on the entire community, law enforcement, the courts, the whole system in general to hold abusers accountable.”
That’s a goal Jami Oullette Morse wants to work towards too. “I think a lot of people look at an abusive situation and say it’s none of my business,” she says. “And I think that’s the worst thing we can do. It’s all of our business. So we need to look at it that way and we need to do something about it.”
Morse and her husband are now raising Stacie’s children. They’re seven and nine-years-old now. Jami says they’re doing well, enjoying school, and making new friends in their new hometown.