A KIRO 7 Investigation reveals that a relatively new state domestic violence law may not have been enforced in Tacoma, possibly resulting in the deaths of two people last May.
Julia Wheeler talked recently about the night of May 23, 2014. She’d been asleep when her then-boyfriend, Aaron Livingston, slowly walked up the stairs of the home they shared on South 19th Street.
“He came into the bedroom, and he had an object in his hand,” Wheeler recalled. “He said, ‘You know your little boyfriend, AJ, downstairs? I just killed him. And you’re next.”
Livingston had just murdered Andrew "AJ" Geissler and Wheeler's aunt, Denyse Marshall, 60, who lived in the basement. He pleaded guilty late last year and was sentenced to life in prison.
After the murders, the 6 foot 8 inches tall, 420-pound Livingston also beat and choked Wheeler until she lost consciousness. She still had a black eye from that night when she spoke with KIRO 7 five months later. She also still had some very serious questions.
“There’s a lot that doesn’t add up,” Wheeler said.
Within days after the murders, Geissler's family members told KIRO 7 they believed Livingston should have been in jail the night he killed Geissler and Marshall.
“If he would have been charged, my brother never would have been killed,” Nick Geissler said last May. “This is just devastating.”
The "charge" Nick Geissler referred to is for what happened the night before the murders. On May 22, Livingston beat Andrew Geissler severely because he thought Andrew Geissler made a sexual pass at Wheeler.
Livingston beat Wheeler that night too, before she called 911.
KIRO 7 received multiple 911 calls from that night as part of a public records request. In the call made by Wheeler, she tells the dispatcher, “My boyfriend just came into the backyard and attacked me and his friend.”
In the Thursday night attack, Livingston used a metal lawn chair to repeatedly bludgeon Andrew Geissler, who was later found bleeding on the streets of Tacoma. An unidentified eyewitness told 911, “Some guy is walking down the street. He has a lot of blood on him.”
In multiple interviews with KIRO 7, Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, because the Tacoma Police Department incident reports never indicated any bones were broken, the Thursday night assaults against Wheeler and Geissler didn't rise to the felony level.
“In this case, there wasn’t probably cause for a judge to find a felony, not initially,” Lindquist said last May. He stood by that claim during another interview with KIRO 7 in October.
Since the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t file felony charges against Livingston for the Thursday assaults, the case was referred to the city attorney, who also didn't file charges immediately.
Livingston was released from jail that Friday morning without posting any bail. Hours later, he killed Andrew Geissler and Marshall.
Wheeler believes Livingston would have calmed down from the Thursday night attacks if he had spent more time behind bars than just a few hours. However, bail was never set, because Livingston never even saw a judge, despite a 2010 Washington state law that requires all suspects arrested for domestic violence attacks "appear in person before a magistrate within one judicial day after arrest."
[Click here to read the amended law that went into effect June 10, 2010 on page six.]
Kelly Starr works for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Seattle. ;She has spent years studying domestic violence-related homicides.
Starr told KIRO 7 in January that the purpose of the law is so that a judge “can look at the information, look at what was documented in the police report, look at what the victim said in their statement, look at the past history of that individual and make release-decisions based on that array of information.”
Even though the police reports from the Thursday attacks clearly show Livingston was arrested for domestic violence assault, he was released before a judge could review his criminal record that included restraining orders on behalf of two former partners and four earlier arrests, all for assault.
The next night, two people were murdered, and Wheeler nearly lost her life, too.
“Somebody at a higher level needs to be held accountable,” Wheeler told KIRO 7. “If that’s our justice system, then we should be frightened.”
KIRO 7 spent weeks trying to get answers from the city of Tacoma about why Livingston never saw a judge before being released from jail, as ordered by the 2010 law. City spokeswoman Gwen Schuler said the question would need to be answered by Lead Prosecutor Jean Hayes, who’s out of town.
Requests to interview City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli about the apparent discrepancy were also denied.
Because of what happened in Tacoma, Starr told KIRO 7 she might start looking into how the 2010 law is or isn’t being enforced statewide.
For a link to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence click here.
Resources for victims can be found on the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website here. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline number at 1-800-799-7233.