‘Stephanie’s Law’ — NJ may create public database of domestic violence offenders
Ed Parze believes that if his daughter Stephanie had had the chance to learn about the violent past of her one-time boyfriend, she'd still be alive today.
Instead, it wasn't until several days after the 25-year-old had gone missing in 2019 that the media and public learned of past domestic dispute charges against the man that authorities say took Stephanie's life and attempted to hide her body.
"It would've made a difference, big time," Parze said.
In hopes of helping other parents avoid a similar nightmare, Parze, of Freehold Township, has helped craft new legislation that would establish a database of domestic violence offenders that the public can search at any time.
A database of these offenders already exists in New Jersey, but today can only be accessed by law enforcement and gun shop owners.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, says the database would also include individuals who are named on permanent restraining orders, and anyone who has violated a restraining order.
"This would be a public list where you can look up names," Gopal said. "And when arresting suspects in domestic violence cases, law enforcement would be required to check the registry to see if the suspect has a history of domestic violence."
Known as "Stephanie's Law," the bill aims to create a track record of violent partners, as perpetrators of domestic violence are often repeat offenders.
"Right now, the average person takes seven times to get away from their abuser," Parze said. "These tools will push them to really make them realize that if I don't leave now, I may never leave."
Another bill introduced by Gopal and guided by Parze would require police to conduct a domestic violence danger assessment on suspected victims, to determine which individuals may be at greater risk and in need of services.
"Thirty-two other states have created a similar assessment model, and I think it makes sense for New Jersey to do the same," Gopal said.
Stephanie Parze and John Ozbilgen
The memory of a trip to the police station with Stephanie sparked the idea to create a public registry for offenders, Parze said. At that time, Stephanie had been physically attacked by John Ozbilgen for a third time, he said.
About two weeks after Parze was last seen on Oct. 30, 2019, it was revealed that her on again-off again boyfriend had been charged twice that year with beating a woman.
Ozbilgen took his own life in November at the age of 29, days after being released from jail on a child pornography charge. Then, in January 2020, authorities announced that Stephanie's body had been found behind a wedding venue along Route 9 in Old Bridge.
It was revealed by authorities that Ozbilgen left behind two suicide notes. In one of the notes, Ozbilgen told his family that "most of the stuff" they'd hear about him is true, except for the child porn accusation.
“I dug myself in a deep hole, this is the only choice. I love you guys,” he wrote.
After his suicide, one of his former girlfriends was interviewed by the Asbury Park Press, saying that she believed that Ozbilgen may have choked Stephanie to death because he liked choking women during sex.
An attorney for Ozbilgen’s parents released a statement denying the prosecutor’s charges that their son was responsible for Stephanie’s death, and blamed his suicide on the investigation.
"We don't truly know what happened to Stephanie, but what we do know is John never said that he hurt Stephanie to us or in the note he left us,” Hakan and Cynthia Ozbilgen said in their written statement.
With past reporting by Sergio Bichao