ORLEANS — At an Oct. 8 dangerousness hearing, Orleans District Court Judge Robert A. Welsh ordered Joseph Amato, 45, of Provincetown, held without bail at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility for 120 days.
Welsh’s ruling represents the strongest legal action taken against Amato or his husband, Christian Peters, to date. For more than a decade, the two men have been embroiled in a cycle of domestic abuse; they’ve accumulated nine case files and 13 varied iterations of assault charges dating back to July 2010.
But despite the severity and frequency of their mutual violence, Amato and Peters have managed to evade conviction in every instance. Time and again, prosecution has been halted by the exercise of their marital privilege: an evidentiary exception protecting one spouse from being forced to testify against the other.
Now, though, may have come a turning point.
Provincetown police most recently arrested Amato on Sept. 30, after Peters reported that Amato had stabbed him in the neck. The police found a broken, bloodied bottle on the scene, and Peters was airlifted to Mass. General Hospital in Boston. Amato was charged with domestic assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, and two unrelated drug offenses.
Until now, Amato and Peters have faced misdemeanors. Assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, though, is a felony. That offered the district attorney’s office the chance to request a 58A petition.
In the event of a felony charge, the commonwealth can request that a defendant be detained for 120 days, without bail, as he awaits trial. The success of the petition hinges on a dangerousness hearing, in which a judge decides whether a defendant poses a danger to his victim or to the community — and, accordingly, whether to release him or keep him in custody.
At Amato’s Oct. 8 hearing, prosecutors submitted each of the previous police reports as evidence, then played a recording of Peters’s Sept. 30 911 call for the court.
Peters informed the dispatcher that “my husband stabbed my neck.” He repeated himself, through sobs, for just over eight minutes.
But defense attorney Scott Gleason of Haverhill argued that Amato had not, in fact, stabbed his husband. Gleason asked Peters — who sat in the back of the courtroom, next to Amato’s mother and cousin — to display his neck wound to the court.
“I think anyone can see it’s not a stab wound,” said Gleason. “What I would suggest to the court is there was a fall to the floor. That’s the only way I would suggest that someone could have sustained this injury, is in the process of a fall.”
Gleason said that Peters — who, on the night of the incident, told the dispatcher and police officers on the scene that Amato had stabbed him — agreed with this version of events.
“Mr. Peters insists there was no act of any stabbing,” said the lawyer. “He’s described to me that he took a piece of glass and pulled it out from behind his head. He didn’t know what it was. It just started to bleed.”
Domestic violence is a crime notoriously difficult to prosecute in large part because victims who were willing initially to be transparent with police often change their stories to protect their abusers, said Ann Burke, a violence recovery program advocate at Fenway Health, a Boston-based LGBTQ+ health care provider.
Physical violence between intimate partners, said Burke, usually comes on the heels of a campaign of intimidation, isolation, financial manipulation, and emotional abuse, all of which make a victim feel like losing his partner would mean losing his only support system.
“They’ve been together for 18 years, and Mr. Peters desperately wants his husband home with him,” Gleason told the court. “I know he supports his husband 100 percent.”
The effects of isolation have particular weight in the gay community. Straight couples are significantly more likely than gay ones to have separate groups of friends, Burke said. The fact that gay victims of domestic violence often share their abuser’s network makes them even less likely to accuse partners of wrongdoing. Gleason cited that shared community in his argument.
“Mr. Peters and Mr. Amato own their own business together,” said Gleason. “They clean houses together. They have many clients and friends in the area. Their clients are all fully in support of the both of them.”
The prosecutors brushed off Gleason’s claim that Peters had fallen on a broken bottle. They again cited Peters’s 911 call, as well as the observation in Provincetown Police Officer Emmett Catanese’s report that a wound on Peters’s forearm was consistent with a defensive injury.
And they described in detail “a history between these two that does seem to be escalating in injuries,” asking Judge Welsh to find Amato dangerous based on his extensive record.
Welsh agreed. He dismissed Gleason’s argument that there had been no stabling. “It’s fairly clear to the court that Mr. Peters was stabbed,” he said, and, citing an “escalating history of violence,” ordered Amato’s continued detention.
Amato will next appear in virtual court on Nov. 6, via Zoom, for a pretrial conference.
Neither attorney Gleason nor the district attorney’s office would comment on the case. But the prosecution made it clear in court that — breaking with their past decisions — they would forge ahead with Amato’s case even if Peters exercises his marital privilege.
“With respect to the victim’s position, because of the nature of this case and the significant history, we fully intend to prosecute it based on the evidence at this point,” they said.