MOBILE, Ala. -- In the months before Michael Kenneth Berry is alleged to have shot his estranged wife in front of her four children, police arrested him twice for violating a protective order that barred him from contacting her.
Both times he was allowed to quickly post bail and be released, according to jail records.
Wendy Stevens also called police on a third occasion after an April 9 confrontation with Berry on Cottage Hill Road, according to Officer Christopher Levy, a Mobile Police Department spokesman.
Berry, 43, wasn't on the scene when the report was written and Stevens never signed a warrant to have him arrested, Levy said.
The protective order -- known as a PFA, for protection from abuse -- was still in effect Tuesday afternoon when, according to police, Berry shot Stevens, 37, as she waited in line at a west Mobile ATM.
Mobile police arrested Berry on Wednesday and charged him with capital murder. He is being held without bail in Mobile County Metro Jail.
Battered women can lose patience with the system and stop trying to have protective orders enforced, said an advocate who works for Penelope House, a local shelter for abused women.
The advocate, who helps battered women navigate the legal system, asked that her name be withheld because she feared reprisals from alleged abusers who have seen her in court.
"Unfortunately, this is something that happens all too often," she said. "Women will do everything they are supposed to do. They will get a PFA, they will call the police, they will sign warrants, and then they see that the abuser is getting a slap on the wrist and they start asking themselves, why am I doing all this?"
Circuit Court Juvenile Judge Edmond Naman issued the protective order for Stevens in January after Berry was arrested on a domestic abuse charge. The document ordered Berry to have no contact of any kind with Stevens.
Naman, whose court handles protective orders, said that about 895 orders were requested last year. Most of the requests lacked merit, he said, and were denied.
"When I grant a restraining order it's really because someone is in danger," he said.
Penalties for violations of a protective order escalate with each condition. A first conviction can be punished with a fine or counseling, but subsequent convictions call for mandatory jail sentences.
Berry's first arrest came a month after Stevens was awarded her protective order. Police took him into custody when Stevens said that he had showed up at her home on Schillinger Road.
Berry hired a bondsman to post the $1,000 bail and was released from Mobile County Metro Jail less than two hours later.
In a subsequent plea agreement, Mobile Municipal Judge Shelbonnie Hall agreed to withhold punishment as long as Berry stayed away from Stevens.
A few weeks later, Berry pulled alongside Stevens at a service station near Loxley, said Lt. Dennis Knight of the Gulf Shores Police Department.
According to the report she filed later, Berry asked where she was going. Though she was going to Gulf Shores, she told him Mississippi, Knight said.
Undeterred, he trailed her to the beach, surprising her as she lay in the sand, Knight said.
Stevens contacted police and had him arrested.
Again, Berry was charged with violating the protective order. Again he hired a bondsman to put up the $1,000 in bail money and walked out a free man.
The Gulf Shores case was set for arraignment in June.
The Penelope House advocate said that laws need to be strengthened so protective orders are taken seriously. She said that punishment needs to be swift and severe.
Still, she said, "It's not a magic brick wall that's going to protect you from someone. It's only a piece of paper."