Most people think that misdemeanor offenses aren't as "bad" as felonies, and legally speaking, I suppose they're not. After all, the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is 1 year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. But some of the most frightening cases occur in the misdemeanor domestic violence division, which is why CourtWatch is delighted that Orange County has a specialized court for these cases.
Wednesday, however, one defendant was barely given a slap on the wrist by Judge Michael Murphy for terrorizing his wife and her parents. There is also a 2-year old son involved.
Hook's estranged wife and mother-in-law successfully obtained injunctions for protection in Lake County (Judge Michael Takac) earlier this month, although the wife's injunction permits "non-violent face to face contact" when exchanging their son for visits (a highly dangerous situation). Court records also note that phone, mail and email contact are permitted for matters relating to the child; also "that the 500 foot provision as it relates to Petitioner's (wife's) residence and place of employment do not apply" (say what?!?! This essentially renders the injunction worth less that the paper it's printed on). The injunctions also prohibit the possession of firearms. At least the mother-in-law's injunction prohibits him from coming to her home.
Exactly one month after being sentenced in Orange County, on Mother's Day weekend, Mr. Hook violated his probation by (1) possessing a firearm and (2) making harassing phone calls to his in-laws in Lake County. Hook's father contacted the victim (Hook's mother-in-law) to notify her that Hook had come to his home in Seminole County, pointed a gun to his face, demanded he give him all his guns, and advised him that he (the defendant) was going to the victim's residence to "take care of her." Hook allegedly ripped the door to the room where the gun safe was located off its hinges. His father was concerned about his son's mental state and he was Baker Acted in Seminole County.
Mr. Hook's Violation of Probation hearing was Wednesday in Judge Murphy's courtroom.
His estranged wife testified that his physical abuse of her began when she was 7 months pregnant with their son, that he had made threatening calls and left threatening messages on facebook, he had stalked her, and that he had pulled a gun on her and their 2-year old son (the original offense for which he was arrested in December).
His mother-in-law testified that Hook told her he would do anything to get to his son.
His father-in-law testified that he now sleeps in the front room of their home to make sure the house is secure. He also told the Court that Hook told him to remember what happened to their neighbor's daughter & grandchild who were murdered in a domestic violence incident, saying "these things happen." The in-laws' neighbor happens to be a Lake County deputy sheriff whose daughter and grandchild who were killed by her husband.
The defendant's estranged wife testified that when she once asked him why he wants to harm innocent people, he replied "so my son can see me on TV."
Clearly, this defendant is a danger to his estranged wife, their child, and her parents.
Assistant State's Attorney Alison Kerestes vigorously argued for the judge to sentence Mr. Hook to 12 months in jail.
In his closing argument, Defense Counsel Robert Fisher told the judge that his client did not get to see his son on Father's Day (he was in custody).
Judge Michael Murphy, before he sentenced the defendant, stated to the victim "No one will be happy with the sentencing." He indicated that he believed, with his experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney and as a judge, that 80 days was appropriate. Hook was also given credit for 37 days he has already served. If he earns gaintime (also known as time off for good behavior), he could be out in less than a month.
If any case deserved the maximum penalty (or at least close to the maximum penalty), CourtWatch thinks this is it. It should not matter that he will face charges in another county. What should matter is that he blatantly broke the law and needs to learn that there will be consequences for doing so.
In addition to violating the injunctions from Lake County and violating his Orange County probation, he made threats to kill and then acted upon those threats. Thank God the defendant's father called the victims and cooperated with law enforcement to get him hospitalized. Otherwise there very easily could have been a Mother's Day Massacre in Lake County.
CourtWatch is extremely disappointed that our misdemeanor DV court, something that the Domestic Violence Commission worked hard to create, did not send a stronger message to this perpetrator.
However, we are delighted that the different law enforcement agencies responded efficiently and effectively to protect the victims, to get help for the defendant, and to hold him accountable for his actions. Kudos to Lake, Seminole and Orange County law enforcement, the Orange County State Attorney and Orange County Probation for working well together. Hopefully, the court in Lake County won't let Mr. Hook "off the hook" for violating their injunction (also a misdemeanor charge).