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'Epitome of a domestic violence victim' or not, she's still going to prison

Standing before a judge at her sentencing, Taylor Partlow had a chance no other convicted killer in Erie County has had before.

She could have been let off with probation.

That chance came from the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, signed into state law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May. The law allows dramatic sentence reductions for domestic abuse survivors charged with crimes arising from their violent circumstances. State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia could have sentenced the 26-year-old personal care aide to anywhere from probation to 25 years in prison for fatally stabbing her boyfriend, 20-year-old Miguel Wyatt, during an argument at a home on Block Street.

The judge chose to imprison Partlow for eight years.

Her case marked the first time a defense lawyer has sought to use the new law in Erie County.

"Taylor is the epitome of a domestic violence victim," said Partlow's attorney, Paul Dell, during her court appearance Thursday.

Dell recounted the testimony of five witnesses at Partlow's manslaughter trial four months ago. One saw Wyatt drag Partlow by her hair across the floor and beat her. Another watched Wyatt choke Partlow in a car. A third witness said Wyatt punched Partlow before she stabbed him in the chest at 5:20 a.m. Sept. 30, 2018. A fourth witness said Partlow's eye was swollen and she had no clothes on immediately after the stabbing. Another testified that Wyatt called her crude names and would "blow up at her on the phone a lot, like call repeatedly if she didn't answer and stuff." Partlow said Wyatt would make her accompany him to his side construction jobs and remain where he could see her.

But while the judge acknowledged Partlow was the victim of domestic violence, he decided against applying the new law in her case.

The abuse, he ruled, had not been bad enough to warrant the more lenient sentence provisions.

"The abuse, No. 1, was not substantial abuse and not a significant contributing factor to your behavior," Buscaglia said at the sentencing hearing. "But I do agree there was domestic abuse."

The judge's use of the words "substantial" and "significant" are key because lawmakers used those terms when they wrote the law to guide how it should be applied in criminal cases.

Buscaglia called Partlow and Wyatt's relationship "mutually abusive."

Partlow also gave police different versions about what happened during the fatal encounter, which the judge called a factor in his decision. And the judge noted Partlow used cocaine before the stabbing.

'Better outcome'

While disappointed by the judge's decision, Dell still called the eight-year sentence "a very good outcome" that would not have happened without the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

"I believe the new legislation definitely had a favorable effect for my client in this case," said Dell, who, with attorney Ann Nichols, represented Partlow at Thursday's hearing. "In my experience, I typically would not have been surprised by a sentence of 20 years. Keep in mind that the district attorney sought the maximum of 25 years."

"The system worked to an extent," Dell said. "The new legislation helps tremendously, and I believe that the outcome in a similar case will be better five to 10 years from now."

Partlow stabbed Wyatt "because she was a brutal victim of domestic violence," he said at the hearing, calling her the kind of person lawmakers had in mind when they passed the state law.

She has been in custody for about a year.

"I do not believe that Taylor Partlow is a danger to the community," he said. "She is a very sweet person, trying her best, who is truly remorseful. Making her sit in jail for another six to seven years serves no purpose. It does not bring Miguel Wyatt back. It is not a deterrent to similar conduct."

"The correct message from the case is not 'Don't stab your scary, abusive boyfriend when he is attacking you and you are naked,' " Dell said. "Rather, it is 'Do not stay in relationships with monsters like Miguel Wyatt.' This is a difficult message for sweet people who are desperate and have low self esteem."

Calculating and criminal

Prosecutors saw the case differently.

"This case was not the right fit for this new law," said District Attorney John J. Flynn, who added he "has no problem with this law, in the appropriate case."

There was just one documented incident involving Partlow and Wyatt before the stabbing, Flynn said.

At her four-day trial in May, Dell argued that the stabbing was in self-defense. A jury rejected that claim and convicted Partlow, as charged, of first-degree manslaughter.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Patrick B. Shanahan of the DA’s Tactical Prosecution Bureau and Assistant District Attorney Gina M. Gramaglia of the DA’s Domestic Violence Bureau.

At Thursday's hearing, Gramaglia said Partlow didn't deserve the sentencing leniency the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act provides.

"She had options that night," Gramaglia said. "She had the ability to call 911. She had the ability to leave that house. She picked up that knife."

While Partlow's friends and co-workers described her as kind, caring and generous, those attributes "do not wipe out that she killed a 20-year-old man," Gramaglia said.

Police found the knife wiped off and put in the kitchen sink, the prosecutor said, which suggests she acted like someone who committed a crime – not someone in a state of fear.

"She knew exactly what she was doing," Gramaglia said. "Every single move she made was calculated – cocaine or not."

Wyatt's mother called him "a sweet, loving and caring son."

"I believe she intended to kill my son," Ivelisse Rodriguez told the court as she asked for the maximum sentence. "To me, in my eyes, it was murder."

'Broken down'

In a letter to the judge, Partlow described herself as "broken down mentally and physically" during her time with Wyatt.

Their relationship, she said, left her "feeling emptiness and loneliness with nowhere to turn for help – not that I was looking, but desperately needed," she wrote. "I loved school and working and helping those in need. But all of my dreams came to a end. I lost my ambition. I was introduced to drugs while being with Miguel. I had no type of motivation in me anymore. My entire being involved around him."

She dated Wyatt for almost two years but never introduced him to her family because of their "unhealthy relationship."

At her trial, she said she called the police after he hit her and split her lip with a liquor bottle in the winter of 2017, but the police couldn't find him. In April 2018, he grabbed her by the neck while she was driving. She stopped in the middle of the street and ordered him out of the car, and he dumped water on her and threw the bottle at her. He then kicked and dented the car, she said. She described a fight at a barbecue during which he grabbed her hair, pushed her, choked her and pinned her down on the ground in front of the house.

She told jurors at her trial that the altercations were so frequent that she could not remember them all.

After the judge announced he would not apply the new law on her behalf, Partlow braced for her prison sentence.

"I'm sorry," Partlow said during her time to speak at the hearing, looking at Wyatt's family in the spectator area of the courtroom. "I'm not a monster I'm painted out to be.

"I'm going to be a woman," she said. "I'm going to do my time. I'm going to come out better."

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