Trying to walk away


When Amara Wells made the decision to leave her husband, his reaction was quick. Court records show that on Aug. 1, the day after Amara Wells fled the family home to move in with her in-laws, Christopher Wells destroyed $1,000 worth of her clothing and left it in trash bags in the driveway of the home where she was staying.

Within days, Amara Wells filed for divorce and began a surreal journey that ended with her murder.

By Aug. 10, she told investigating officers, “She was scared to death of him and couldn’t believe this was happening to her.”

Christopher Wells was charged with domestic violence, marking the first such charges to appear on his arrest record. He was ordered to stay away from his wife. Over the next several months, Christopher Wells ignored those court orders, resulting in several arrests for violation of the restraining orders and violation of conditions of bond.

On Feb. 22, the last time he was arrested for violation of the restraining order, Christopher Wells did not post bond. Instead, he stayed in jail overnight at the El Paso County detention facility. That night, his wife was killed in an act authorities allege was a planned homicide.

Christopher Wells, 49, now sits in the Douglas County jail on charges of murder in the first degree after deliberation, solicitation to commit murder and conspiracy to commit murder. His three alleged accomplices have been arrested for the deaths of Amara Wells, 39 and Robert Rafferty, 49. Josiah Sher, 26, faces charges of murder in the first degree after deliberation, assault with a deadly weapon, arson, burglary, first-degree assault menacing and first degree assault disfigurement/heat of passion.

Domestic violence experts say that, on the surface, the only mysteries in this story are that Christopher Wells did not have a prolonged history of domestic violence and that Amara Wells turned to her in-laws for shelter. Otherwise, it is a story too often told.

According to statistics from the Women’s Crisis and Family Outreach Center, domestic violence ranks as the number one crime of violence in Douglas County. More than 90 percent of the homicides in Douglas County over the last 11 years are attributed to domestic violence, the crisis center reports, with more than 800 reports of domestic violence to the sheriff’s office each year. The crisis center serves victims of domestic violence and runs the county’s only emergency shelter available to Douglas County residents.

In the case of Amara Wells, the victim appears to have done everything she could to protect herself, said Jennifer Walker, executive director of the Women’s Crisis and Family Outreach Center.

“It sounds like she very much used the system,” said Walker. “Sometimes you get situations where they get a restraining order and continue contact with the perpetrator and it becomes a mess. The victim isn’t necessarily using that restraining order to its fullest extent. It sounds like she did use the restraining order and the system.”

Victims often refuse to file charges against their perpetrators or, in some cases, change their minds and drop the charges after filing, Walker said. Walker recalls a case in Weld County, where the husband found his wife walking in the street of their small community with the couple’s 6-year-old child. The man ran down the wife with his car, pinning her against a wall. Witnesses included a law enforcement officer who reported the man backed up his vehicle, hit the accelerator and pinned her again.

The woman survived the attack and sustained a broken back. Three days later, she dropped the charges against her husband, Walker said.

“I’ve been doing this for years and even by the time I think I’ve got it down, something else comes up and I say ‘OK, I didn’t think of that’,” Walker said.

Amara Wells continued to use the system to the very end. It wasn’t until January, months into the alleged harassment by her estranged husband, before she began to show signs of backing away from the system.

On Jan. 21, an email from Amara Wells arrived on the desk of the Douglas County detective investigating the Wells case. Amara Wells reported escalation of the harassment from her estranged husband, including harassing emails from Christopher Wells. By the time the message arrived on the desk of the investigator, Amara Wells did not want to file a police report.

“Amara Wells expressed concern about having Christopher Wells arrested and stated that she would only forward emails if she was sure that he would not be arrested,” the investigating detective reports.

Less than one month later, Amara Wells was dead.

The crisis center reports that during 2009, the center assisted more than 6,000 callers and provided 2,400 nights of shelter to women and children in imminent danger of domestic violence.

“What’s sad about this is the fact that she utilized what was available to her and took advantage of the legal remedies and it didn’t matter,” Walker said. “The tragedy is she did really try to do all the things she potentially could do to make sure she was safe. (But) if you have someone who, in their mind says ‘I don’t care,’ it doesn’t matter what’s on the piece of paper. The system is not going to work.”

The funeral services for Amara Wells and Robert Rafferty were March 4. In a statement issued through the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, surviving family members asked for privacy in the days ahead.

The suspects in their deaths were formally charged in their murders the day before the victims were laid to rest.

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