Domestic abuse victims who are strangled, such as Jessica Bridges, are seven times more likely to end up murdered by their partners. So, why is it still a midemeanor?

Jessica Bridges said she played dead after being strangled by her ex-boyfriend, Robert Francis Poole.

"When I came to, he was dragging me into the bedroom," Bridges said. "I remember thinking, 'Pretend he's a bear and play dead."

Fighting waves of nausea as she regained consciousness Saturday afternoon, Bridges struggled to maintain her ploy. Poole stepped over her still body as she lay on the carpet, closed the bedroom door and left her for dead, she said.

Bridges sent an urgent two-word text to her mother, "Help me."

Rogue River police on Sunday arrested Poole. He remains lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $1.25 million bail. His three felony charges include two counts of fourth-degree felony assault and coercion.

The Jackson County District Attorney's Office on Monday also filed misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree assault, strangulation, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Poole also has charges pending in California. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Domestic violence experts say Bridges was fortunate to have escaped the relationship alive. Victims who are strangled are seven times more likely to end up murdered by their partners, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

So why does Oregon law list the often lethal crime as a misdemeanor?

Follow the money, says Gerry Sea, coordinator for the Council Against Domestic & Sexual Violence.

Bills presented to the Oregon Legislature calling for stiffer penalties by making strangulation a felony offense have failed to pass because of concerns about adding inmates to the overburdened corrections system, says Sea.

"It's about money at this point," Sea said. "The Oregon Legislature looks at bills and their financial costs. It hasn't been prioritized because it has a financial cost to corrections. And they're already feeling strapped."

Domestic violence homicides in Oregon have risen significantly in the past two years. There were 22 in 2009, and nine deaths in the first three months of this year.

In contrast, there were an average of 18 domestic violence murders annually from 1997 to 2003, according to a study by the Department of Human Services.

Community Works in 2005 sponsored a safety audit of the Jackson County District Attorney's Office and seven law enforcement agencies. Of the 92 law enforcement reports on domestic assaults, eight involved strangulation.

"That's almost 10 percent," said Sea. "We need to make this a priority. It is a very serious crime."

Strangulation is used by abusers as a form of power and control, she said

Bridges, 28, is 5-feet 2-inches tall. Poole is nearly 6-feet tall and weighs over 200 pounds. He also has a black belt in martial arts, Bridges said.

Poole is facing additional domestic violence charges for violence allegedly perpetrated against Bridges in February.

Bridges said Poole kept up a campaign of terror to force her to recant her testimony in that case. He kept her and her two children virtual prisoners in their apartment, threatening to kill her or other family members if Bridges called police, she said.

Poole would also send her 5-year old son to the bedroom, turn up the music, close the windows and barricade the doors "before he would put his hands on me", Bridges said.

On Saturday, she told her son not to leave the room. Then Poole attacked them both, she said.

"He went after my son," Bridges said. "He pulled him and choked him with his T-shirt."

When she tried to intercede, Poole attacked her while she was still holding their month-old infant in her arms. The baby went down on the couch. Thankfully he was unharmed, Bridges said.

"I felt like I was hit by a truck," she said.

Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence: unconsciousness may occur within seconds and death within minutes. Other victims may have no visible injuries whatsoever, yet because of underlying brain damage due to the lack of oxygen during the strangulation assault, they may have serious internal injuries or die days, even weeks later.

Bridges has visible bruising on her neck and a wide swath of scraped skin on her back.

It is hard to swallow, to drink, to eat, she said.

Saturday wasn't the first time Poole had put his hands around her neck and squeezed until she lost consciousness. He also would cover her mouth and nose with his hands, cutting off her airways in that fashion. He sometimes put his knee on her neck, all in an effort to force her to comply with his wishes, Bridges said.

"Every time, he'd say he was going to kill me," she said. "Then, afterwards, he'd say I should get over it. That he hadn't hit me."

Police arrested Poole on suspicion of kidnapping, attempted murder and other domestic violence charges. On Monday, the Jackson County District Attorney's office opted not to file the Measure 11 charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to convict Poole on attempted murder and kidnapping. Those charges were replaced by felony charges of coercion and assault, said District Attorney Mark Huddleston.

Members of the public are upset over the lesser charges, said Marlene Mish, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center.

"People are calling to say they're outraged about the charges," said Mish, adding she has fielded 10 calls in the past few days.

"I don't know what to say. I know enough to take this very seriously. I am very concerned when anyone is hurt, and particularly when children are involved."

ORS 163.187

Strangulation
(1) A person commits the crime of strangulation if the person knowingly impedes the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another person by:
(a) Applying pressure on the throat or neck of the other person; or
(b) Blocking the nose or mouth of the other person.
(2) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply to legitimate medical or dental procedures or good faith practices of a religious belief.
(3) Strangulation is a Class A misdemeanor.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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