James Filiaggi

This is one of the classic cases that helped, or harmed, the idea of domestic violence reform. By the mid-1980's domestic violence was being taken a little more serious, or at least on the surface, and for many in law enforcement and government, that is what counts it seems. If a man stalked or even beat his wife or girlfriend say in the 1960's there were many who believed she “must have done something to deserve” it. By the 1980's women were being taken a little more seriously and were able to get things like restraining orders and in some case even get their abuser put in prison. That was the case in Indiana. Lisa Bianco was able to get some action done against her ex-husband, Alan Matheney. And then one day in 1989 he was given a day pass from prison without any supervision. Lisa had no idea that this had happened. Alan made his way to his ex-wife's home and her neighbors watched helplessly in horror as he chased her down the street and beat her to death in front of their eyes. Indiana immediately stopped allowing prisoners day passes. But that was in Indiana. Not Ohio, I am sure that when the Matheney case was revealed those in other states across the country thumbed their nose at how stupid Indiana had been in allowing Matheney out, even for a day. That could not happen to them. And while every case is different, sometimes they are more similar than they would like to admit.

Indiana would execute Alan Matheney in 2005. Ohio would have their own, similar version of the Alan Matheney case in James Filiaggi. And, sadly it would happen some five years after Lisa Bianco was murdered. Women advocate groups often discuss both of these case because the women did everything right. They did everything the law required of them to keep them and their children safe and yet none of it worked. They are both used for other reasons too. Of course the Matheney case is used because of the flaw that allowed him to be released, even for a day, without informing Lisa. In the Filiaggi case they point out that domestic violence comes in all shapes and colors.

James Filiaggi was not one of those people who were down on their luck or someone could look at their history and just know they were not going anywhere in life. No, James Filiaggi was a college graduate who never seemed to give anyone, much less law enforcement, any problems. But, as we all know, there are those that show one person to everyone outside and another behind closed doors.

James Filiaggi and Lisa Huff were married in December of 1991 in Lorain Ohio. Nine months later, in August of 1992 Lisa filed for divorce. I found nothing specific about why this happened or if there was any abuse alleged prior to the filing of the divorce. By then the couple had two daughters. Their divorce would officially become final in March of 1993. Soon after Lisa and the girls would move in with her boyfriend, Eric Beiswenger. Now, James Filiaggi would also at some point at least have a girlfriend that he apparently lived with but that did not seemingly stop him from harassing both Lisa and Eric. In the fall of 1993 Lisa and Eric would become engaged and were planning a wedding for September of 1994.

While it seems that James had always been a bit intimidating throughout at least the divorce and what not, things got worse when Lisa and Eric became engaged. They began getting harassing telephone calls and were experiencing vandalism. It seemed a bit unclear if in the beginning they could prove that it was James doing these things or if they suspected it without any proof. There seemed to be an indication that Lisa had been able to get a restraining order against him, but again she had to have proof that he had violated it. Exchanging the children at visitation also increasing became more difficult.

On December 19, 1993 Lisa and Eric went to pick the girls up after a visitation with James at his mother's home. After placing one of the children in the back seat of their car James began an argument with Lisa. He then placed his hands around her neck and began choking her. Eric jumped in to stop him and the two men began fighting. The fight continued until James' mother came outside and pulled him away. Eric was left with several broken bones in his face. James was arrested and charged with felony assault. James was not seemingly in jail long as he got out on bond awaiting court and/or trial for his charges.

At some point Lisa and Eric installed surveillance cameras onto their home. They needed proof to the things that were happening to them. On January 20, 1994 those cameras caught James attempting to break into a window of their home. Lisa called the police but by the time the police arrived James was gone. Although they did not find to arrest him they did apparently put out a warrant for him on charges of intimidation and vandalism. Two days later James was able to buy a 9 mm handgun. On the night of January 24th, while his daughters were sleeping and apparently Eric was away from home, James returned to her home. He had taken a $1,000 advance out on his Visa and had left several hundred dollars with his girlfriend before heading there. Lisa attempted to make a 911 call as he came “busting” in the back door. She ran out the front and to a neighbors house. There was no answer so she ran to the next home. The neighbor let her in and she hid in a closet. James followed her and like had at her home he busted into the door. He asked the neighbor where she was and he would not tell but James did not care. He told the man to go hide himself. He then found Lisa in the closet where he first shot her in the shoulder. She ran to another room. It was there that James caught up with her and as he shot her in the head the neighbor heard him say “This will teach you to fuck with me.”

The police were on it but once again, by the time they got to the scene James was gone. He had headed over to Lisa's stepfather's home where he attempted to shoot him but left again. He made his way some three hours away to Athens Ohio where he stayed overnight with some friends. The next day the friends found out that James was wanted for murder as what always seemed to be the case, he was gone before law enforcement arrived. James then made his way to ski resorts in Pennsylvania and New York. At one of the resorts he used his credit card to buy flowers for his girlfriend who was still in Ohio. Police were on his trail. But, then again they had always been on his “trail.” They just were not catching him. This time was no different. By the time they got to where he had been he was gone. The only difference this time is that he headed back to Ohio and turned himself in.

Prosecutors would charge James with aggravated murder. Whether his motive had been simple revenge or in anger, the fact of the matter was that Lisa was likely to be a witness in the case against him from December. On August 10, 1995 he was sentenced to death. The defense would blame his behavior on what they called “an untreated chemical imbalance in his brain” but it appears there was little to nothing to back this claim. Throughout his trial he was given a stun belt that apparently had to be used at least once it seems as his lawyers attempted to have a new trial saying that the shock belt had left him mumbling at some point through the trial and he was unable to help in his defense. The claim was rejected. In fact one of the judges throughout his process would rule that James was faking mental illness throughout the trial.

By 2006 James had decided to waive all of his remaining appeals. That is until about a week before his execution but then he changed his mind again. In the end he would say that while he had changed his opinion while in prison when it came to the death penalty, believing it should no longer be used, he did find it appropriate for him. There had been a clemency hearing by the parole board to consider commuting his sentence to life but even his lawyers got up at the hearing and basically had nothing to say. On April 24, 2007, after seventeen years on death row, the state of Ohio executed James Filiaggi. Lisa's mother, cousin and fiance were there to witness the execution.

James' younger brother Anthony had taken James and Lisa's children in to raise. It seems he was in a rather bad spot himself. It appears the girls, one of which who had written a letter to the courts (or was it media?) expressed her desire to see her father put to death. Neither his brother, nor his daughters attended the execution.  


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