Remembering Justine, as Abshire accused of more abuse
Two years after Justine Swartz Abshire was discovered dead or dying on a dark road near Barboursville, her parents marked the second anniversary of her death November 3 with a low-key service at Culpeper's Emerald Hill Elementary School, where Justine taught kindergarten. Yet as family and friends grieved Justine, her widower, Eric Abshire, who Justine's parents have publicly accused of causing their daughter's death, is facing new accusations of domestic abuse.
In early October, for the second time in six months, the mother of Abshire's two children requested a protective order against Abshire. Unlike an emergency protective order she swore out in June but then allowed to expire, this time the woman, who has asked not to be named, went to court and asked a judge to extend the order. Her request was granted on October 9, when Greene County Judge Susan Whitlock upheld the order, which prohibits Abshire from coming within 250 feet of the woman or their two children until October 23, 2010.
Because the protective order is filed in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and contains information about minors, the records are sealed. But reached by phone, Abshire says the order stemmed from a verbal disagreement he had with the woman that turned physical– when she attacked him.
"She smacked me in the face with a DirecTV remote control and busted my nose," says Abshire.
He responded, he says, in self-defense. "I grabbed her by the shirt and the throat," he says, and told her not to hit him again.
Abshire says he went to the magistrate to swear out a complaint for assault against the woman, but when the magistrate told him she would be arrested, "I decided," he says, "that wasn't in the best interest of my kids."
He says he decided to let the matter drop–- only to learn a week later that the mother of his children had requested the protective order.
The woman declines to share details of the altercation that precipitated the protective order, saying only, "His account is inaccurate, and if it were correct, the judge would not have granted the protective order."
Attorney Bob Byrne, who has handled many cases involving protective orders, says Whitlock's decision reveals she believed the woman's version, and that often such protective orders affect child custody arrangements, with the subject of the protective order losing visitation.
"You'd have to allege that there would be some sort of harm to the child, and it could be from viewing or having witnessed domestic assault or domestic abuse," he says.
Abshire, who says he plans to return to court to fight for his parental rights, was interviewed extensively on an hour-long ABC Primetime Crime episode about Justine's death that aired in July. Abshire claimed on-camera that he had never physically harmed a woman, although he admitted to fighting with men. Justine's younger sister, Lauren Swartz, has publicly disputed Abshire's claim, saying she witnessed him shove Justine during the time the two were dating, prior to their May 2006 wedding and that Justine had described several other incidents.
Justine's parents, who on Monday helped plant a tree and hang a quilt made by their late daughter's elementary students, find news of the latest protective order against Abshire concerning.
"Justine was a victim of domestic violence," says her mother, Heidi Swartz. "Another woman has now asked the judicial system to intervene on her behalf. That's pretty serious."
"In addition to wanting Justine's case solved," says Justine's father, Steve Swartz, "the other thing we sincerely hope is that no one else gets hurt before that happens."
The investigation into Justine's death remains open and "active," says Virginia State Police Special Agent Mike Jones, who declined further comment. In March, police announced that Justine's injuries were "not consistent" with a hit and run and that her body did not bear "strike marks," injuries created when a vehicle's bumper strikes flesh and bone.
In July, State Police revealed Justine suffered 113 blunt force injuries, including 23 to her head alone. In addition, Justine's parents believe Abshire could stand to receive as much as $1.4 million in insurance payments if Justine's death is ruled a hit and run.
Abshire has always maintained his innocence, saying he is as mystified by his wife's death as everyone else. And, he says, he too yearns to see the case solved.
"As long as its ongoing, it's still my name being dragged through the mud," he says. "Until this does get resolved, nothing is going to change.