Nashville, Tenn. – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear dramatic testimony from Alex Youn on Wednesday morning at 10 am at the Cordell Hull State Office Building on two bills drafted in response to the brutal murders last year of his sister, Marie Varsos and his mother, Debbie Sisco, by Marie’s estranged husband. Since the murders, Alex has worked tirelessly with the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence (The Coalition) and key legislative leaders in seeking justice for Marie and Debbie by passing stronger laws to prevent the kind of tragedy that devastated his family.
“The criminal justice system failed my sister and my mom. There were mistakes and process failures that left them living in fear and the perpetrator free to move about, plot their murders and ultimately carry them out,” said Alex Youn. “We must learn from this tragedy and enact these reforms to strengthen our ability to hold perpetrators accountable and keep survivors safe.”
The murders occurred in Lebanon, Tenn., on April 12, 2021. A few weeks before the murders, Marie’s estranged husband, Shaun, had tied her up, strangled her, pointed a gun at her head, and threatened to kill her, her family, and himself. He harassed her at work and stalked her. Marie sought the help of the courts, the police, and the local family justice center to protect her. She pressed criminal charges, obtained an order of protection, and she had been trained how to use a gun and possessed a firearm. And although Marie did everything right to protect herself and her family, it was not enough.
To gain a better understanding of the events which led up to the homicides, Youn set about the task of interviewing people in the criminal justice system who came in contact with Marie and Debbie in the weeks before the murders. He compiled the attached report entitled, The Murders of Marie and Debbie – A Preventable Tragedy, which is an examination of the events and timeline leading up to the murders and includes recommendations for policy changes. SB2615 and SB2379 address two of the policy changes included in the report.
The Proposed Legislation:
· SB2615 by Senator Reeves
This bill requires the magistrate to order a defendant arrested for a domestic violence offense which involves strangulation or threatened use of a firearm, to carry or wear a GPS device and, if able, to pay the costs associated with operating that device and an electronic receptor device provided to the victim.
· SB2379 by Senator Walley
This bill requires a magistrate when making a decision concerning the amount of bail required for the release of a defendant charged with domestic violence offense involving strangulation or threats made against the victim’s life to set the defendant’s bail in an amount not less than twice that which is customarily set for the offense charged.
“Tennessee currently ranks among the top ten states with the highest female victim/male offender homicide rates”, said Kathy Walsh, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. “Passing these two pieces of legislation will go a long way in helping to reduce domestic homicides in our state”.