The 'silent killer' in domestic violence cases

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- It's a chilling look at a crime that can kill within seconds.
In one Valley city, hundreds are in hiding, hoping the police never show up.

3TV recently got a front row seat as Chandler detectives hunted down men and women accused of attacking their loved ones.
"I've left homes thinking, I hope we don't come back to a murder scene," said Chandler detective George Arias.
Unfortunately, for Joannie Sandoval's daughter, Lita Montano, police protection wasn't enough.

"Whenever I'm having a bad day, I can run over here and cry to Lita because she was the backbone of our family," Sandoval said beside her daughter's gravesite.
Nearly four years ago, Montano's lifeless body was brought to Banner Gateway Hospital. Her ex-boyfriend, D.T. Stroud, drove the 26-year-old to the front entrance in the early hours of December 6, 2009.
No one knew at the time that he murdered her. With tears in her eyes, Sandoval said, "Remember I love you. Those were the last words, I heard from her."
Sandoval would only later learn the horrifying details.   

"We had been told that he had been riding around town with her with a black plastic bag on her head," explained Sandoval.
Doctors confirmed Montano had been strangled.

"He had strangled her this way, from behind, and I thought, yeah, he couldn't look her in the eyes while he was killing her," Sandoval said.
Detective Arias said one out of every four police calls involves domestic violence.

Statistics show that strangulation cases are on the rise.

"It's common knowledge that we're just undereducated and uninformed about the dangers of strangulation," said Jill Rable, a forensic nurse examiner with Scottsdale Healthcare.
One reason for the rise in strangulation cases, little evidence is left behind. Rable explains, "It is unlikely there would be a ton of injuries on a neck when it's caused by just a hand or an arm or something like that."
Not only is strangulation hard to prove, it can happen very quickly. Detective Arias said a victim can be rendered completely unconscious in fewer than 10 seconds.
Rable believes this type of domestic violence needs more exposure.

"Someone is more likely to stroke if they have repeated strangulation. An instant heart attack can occur,” said Rable. "There are long term threatening things that can happen instantly and can actually for the next five days or so those complications and swellings can occur."
"Terry" vividly remembers the day her boyfriend tried to strangle her. "As I started to lose consciousness I felt as though that wasn't even me lying on there, I was somewhere just watching this happen because this couldn't possibly be happening to me."
She endured years suffering in silence. "He knew not to leave marks, visible marks on me." Today the repeated strangulations haunt her. "I don't wear necklaces. I don't wear anything on my neck."
As for Sandoval, she remains grateful that she has one last photograph to include in her collection. Montano’s gravesite is now the only place she feels close to her daughter. "This is not somewhere that a mom wants to come visit her daughter."

Click here for a list of some steps you can take to plan for your safety.