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Debi Zuver Defends Her Life; Gets 21 Years

Debi Zuver"I know that if I hadn't shot Kim that night,
I wouldn't be here today."

On Thanksgiving night, 2000, Debi Zuver was getting out. Her two-year relationship with Kim Garloff, always punctuated with violence and threats to kill, had now become unbearable. In her words: "I saw too much. I wanted out. I wanted my life back." But she knew it would be dangerous.

Kim Garloff was a crank dealer with all that entailed — increasing methamphetamine use and paranoia, a fondness for guns and other weapons, and a team of "enforcers" who made sure people did what Kim said. He relished telling Debi stories of his violence against people who owed him money and against the women in his past.

He often talked of Jody Lester, who testified at Debi's sentencing hearing. Her relationship with Garloff had been fraught with his beatings, running her car off the road, shooting at her moving car, slashing her tires, and the ever-present threats to kill. Some of those death threats sounded eerily similar to Garloff's threats against Debi.

Garloff was slated to stand trial in January on three felonies related to the manufacture and sale of meth-amphetamine. This would be his third strike. Debi was to be his alibi witness. As the trial date neared, Kim Garloff was losing it. His need for total control over Debi became more and more frightening and his threats to kill more graphic.

"You're my star witness, Baby. You better hope I end up walkin' out of this, because if I'm through, you're through. And you're dead."

Debi Zuver walks the Halls of Justice?Four days before Thanksgiving, Debi called Garloff's lawyer and said she wasn't going to testify — that she wouldn't perjure herself to save him. Garloff, sitting in the lawyer's office, grabbed the phone. "I know what you're up to," he growled.

It was at that point that Debi started sleeping with a gun under her pillow.

On Thanksgiving night, Debi Zuver was packing her things to flee to a friend's house. She went to check out a noise in the other room just in time to see Kim Garloff enter her living room, locking the door behind him.

Kim threw her down on the bed, stuck his knee in her chest and beat her, all the while threatening her life. He threw her cross the room against the wall. He said she was just going to be a "missing person" because he would kill her, put her body in a hole someplace in the middle of nowhere, cover her over with lye and her family would never know what happened to her.

Garloff then sat down on the couch and said, "Get me my goddamned gun." Debi says she got the gun from under her pillow and walked across the room. "I was actually going to give him the gun," she said. "Instead I shot him."

Despite all this, Judge Daum determined the evidence of battered women's syndrome was not convincing; refused to accept that the victim (Garloff) had been the aggressor and precipitated the incident; and determined Debi was not acting under duress or in defense of her own life. He sentenced her to 21 years — the maximum for manslaughter and the maximum for the use of a gun. It felt like a kick in the chest.

This sentence is even more chilling in light of the recent dismissal of all charges against Petaluma doctor Louis Pelfini, charged with homicide and domestic violence in the smothering death of Janet Pelfini, his wife. Because of double jeopardy, Louis Pelfini cannot be charged again for criminal behavior in Janet's death. (For more on the Pelfini dismissal click here.)

As women's rights activists, we are alarmed at the deadly messages these two cases send to the community: "If you kill your wife you'll get away with it," and, "If you're a battered woman you better shut up and take it because the cops won't protect you and if you dare protect yourself, we're gonna rip your life away."

This just isn't right. We need to get Debi Zuver and all women who kill their batterers out of prison. They've lost enough of their lives.

January 24, 2002


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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