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WARNING: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.
Seven months since she was nearly beaten to death near Seattle, Alleah Taylor said she still has marks on her neck from the hands of former NFL player Chad Wheeler.
It remains one of the ugliest domestic violence cases in NFL history. Wheeler, her former boyfriend, strangled her unconscious, broke her arm and left her for dead in January as blood poured from her nose and mouth and into her stomach, according to prosecutors.
But the healing process is taking time for Taylor – and not just because she said her injuries were severe, including a concussion that still gives her headaches. She also has been forced to play a grueling waiting game because Wheeler’s attorney has asked for several delays, pushing back his trial date to December after it was previously set for June, August and October. Wheeler, who has pleaded not guilty, has been out on bond in the meantime, subject to electronic home monitoring.
“It is definitely a difficult journey, especially when you really just kind of want this nightmare to end and then it just keeps getting extended,” Taylor told USA TODAY Sports. “It is quite frustrating, and it is kind of a scary process just because they could try to delay it again, again and again. And there’s not much I can really do on my part but just wait.”
The delays highlight a taxing but often overlooked part of the criminal justice system for domestic abuse survivors: By law, the right to a speedy trial is owed to those accused of crimes but not necessarily to those harmed by crimes. In this case, Wheeler has waived his right to a speedy trial for the purpose of these delays, which his attorney said are necessary to gather and review evidence for his defense.
A spokesman for King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office noted the defendant has a right to prepare for trial and that continuances are common, especially after a court rule change there this year that required trial dates to be set earlier in the process. The spokesman also noted “the waiting in this case is undeniably adding to the victim’s frustration.”
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“What we will do is continue to be in contact with her to be as supportive as we can be – knowing that even a guilty verdict won’t completely make up for the difficulty of going through this, including the lengthy court process,” said the spokesman, Casey McNerthney. “ As soon as we’re able to bring this case before a jury, we’re confident that we can prove the criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Taylor has had several reasons to be anxious until then:
►In June, Wheeler had moved to a new residence near her without seeking court approval, violating the terms of his release on bail, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The situation was resolved after Wheeler moved farther away, Taylor said. But Taylor knows that Wheeler, an offensive tackle who was released by the Seattle Seahawks in January, still lives in Washington state while he’s out of jail awaiting trial on a $400,000 bond.
“Chad actually did move into a neighborhood that was near me, pretty close,” Taylor said. “They did make him move. I’m very grateful that was a very speedy process and that I didn’t have any run-ins with him.”
Wheeler’s attorney didn’t return a message seeking comment.
►Taylor is prepared to testify against Wheeler at trial but dreads it because she will have to face him in court and relive what she said he did to her. Such dread doesn’t get easier with time.
“I have been just trying to get mentally prepared for it, and just try to walk by faith and not by fear,” she said.
Wheeler, 27, has been out of the NFL since he was charged with felony assault, unlawful imprisonment and resisting arrest. He likely never will play in the league again.
►In July, after researching the matter, she addressed the Metropolitan King County Council and decried the wait for justice for victims because of backlogs in the court system because of COVID-19. She also advocated for more resources for domestic violence victims.
“It's an ongoing issue we see in violent, domestic violence and sexual offense cases, where long delays and continuances succeed in wearing down the victims,” said Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, director of the Sexual Violence Law Center in Seattle. She noted that Washington state does have a victims’ bill of rights to protect victims, but there are “no consequences for the system or defendants when rights are violated.”
Some states have laws that specifically address the right of crime victims to avoid unnecessary trial delays, but only for victims of certain crimes, according to a 2013 study on the subject in the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy in St. Louis.
Minimizing the stress caused by delays
For example, in Washington state, the law states that continuances are not permitted in certain cases involving minors unless there are compelling reasons for it.
"The victim’s rights in our state due not include any right to the victim for a speedy trial,” said Heather Wehr of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “When a case is handed over to the state, the victim is essentially being used by the state as a witness to make their case. The legal system is not oriented to the victim’s wants or needs, and the process can be deeply retraumatizing and difficult for victims.”
Other states go further. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act in Rhode Island states the “court and the attorney general's office shall take appropriate action to ensure a speedy trial to minimize the length of time the victim must endure the stress of involvement in the proceeding.”
In Tennessee, the law says all parties affected by a criminal offense, including the victim, survivors of the victim and witnesses to the offense, “shall be able to expect that the operation of the criminal justice system will not be unnecessarily delayed and that they will be able to return to normal lives as soon as possible.”
That law then states that “all persons involved in the criminal justice system shall make every effort to dispose of any charges against a defendant within 180 days of the date of the defendant's indictment.”
Yet how these laws are enforced, if at all, can be open to interpretation.
“In the states with statutes or bills of rights protecting the victims’ right to a speedy trial, the fact that there are so few cases citing this authority is telling: either judges and prosecutors are unaware of it, or there is barely any authority behind the statutes or bills of rights,” according to the study by Mary Beth Ricke, now listed as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida.
This doesn’t help Taylor, who said she understands that Wheeler and his attorney are “trying to do their due diligence.” She is also mindful of how delays can be used as a defense tactic, though she is not alleging that is happening in her case.
Delay often works unfairly to the defendant’s advantage, as Utah law professor Paul Cassell has noted in testimony before Congress.
“Witnesses may become unavailable, their memories may fade, evidence may be lost, or the case may simply grow stale and receive a lower priority with the passage of time,” Cassell stated.
And while delays have lasted much longer for victims in other criminal trials, Taylor said that’s actually a big reason she’s speaking out about it publicly.
'Fingerprints on my neck'
She said she wants to shed light on the plight of victims, who often don’t agree to cooperate with law enforcement in domestic violence cases because they fear reprisal or other negative consequences, such as a loss of economic security or the stress of waiting for justice.
In high-profile domestic violence cases involving NFL players, the public focus also is often placed on what happens to the players, not the victims, in part because the victims often don’t want to speak publicly.
Taylor says she wants to help end this cycle of silence and also bring attention to how process delays affect victims.
In the same city of Kent, Washington, where Taylor allegedly was assaulted by Wheeler, a woman allegedly was killed by her husband Nov. 30, nine months after he had been reported to police for allegedly beating her and dragging her out of a bowling alley in February 2020. The man was charged with assault and kidnapping in March but didn’t appear for his arraignment in May. After being arrested in August, he posted bail and was ordered not to have contact with the woman.
Months later, on Dec. 1, the woman was discovered with marks on her neck and blood and bruising on her face. She died from blunt-force injury to her torso, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.
In Taylor's case, she says she has been grateful to her domestic violence advocate and the prosecutor’s office for keeping her informed. She works in health care management but is still recovering from her injuries.
“For a while I had his fingerprints on my neck, embedded in my neck,” she said. “They were scars, but now they are starting to fade away.”
Eventually she hopes the trial does, too, instead of constantly hovering on her horizon.
“I definitely wish I could say, 'No, let’s get this over with now please,’ ” Taylor said. “Can we just get to trial?”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Accuser of ex-NFL player Chad Wheeler wants resolution in her case