ROCKLAND, Maine — Although it makes the news when women kill their abusive partners, the growth of battered women’s projects and other resources over the last 40 years has meant that abusers are generally less likely to be killed than in the past, according to some Maine experts.
“Overall, the movement has done one thing, which is to encourage women to choose other, safer choices, and to feel less trapped,” said Lyn Carter of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
When abuse escalates, women are still much more likely than men to be assaulted or killed by their abusers. Women accounted for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence in 2001, according to crime data statistics from the federal Bureau of Justice.
In Maine, a state with one of the nation’s lowest homicide rates, domestic violence counts for a large proportion of the homicides. Ten people died in domestic violence-related homicides in 2009, and 20 lost their lives to it in 2008. The state saw 25 homicides total in 2009, and 31 in 2008.
State officials said they continue to make combating domestic violence a priority.
“You don’t shove it under the rug anymore,” Attorney General Janet Mills said recently. “It’s a public safety problem, a child abuse and neglect problem. It’s the public’s business.”
Mills denied, however, that Maine courts are soft on women who kill their boyfriends or husbands or that verdicts like Amber Cummings’ suspended sentence could be seen as condoning vigilante justice. Cummings shot and killed her husband, James G. Cummings, while he was asleep in December 2008.
“The mere fact that it’s a family member does not diminish the crime in our view. Not at all,” she said. “I think every case is different. We don’t look at abuse as an excuse for killing someone. Each case is different. We don’t encourage anyone to take the law into their own hands.”
Kathleen Morgan, executive director of New Hope For Women, said that when a woman kills her abusive partner, it causes consternation and sadness among victims’ advocates.
“Taking a life is not something that sits easily with anyone. You spend a lot of time doing soul-searching — wondering what we could have done differently, what we could have done better, if we could have intervened and helped in some way,” she said. “It’s a recognition that we’ve failed someone.”
At the same time, Morgan said, Amber Cummings’ situation was very much out of the ordinary.
“Where the controlling behavior is so extreme, it would have really been impossible for anyone to intervene,” she said. “Based on what I’ve read in the papers, Amber really took the action that she did when she saw it affecting her child.”
Other Maine cases of women killing abusive partners or family members include:
· Vella Gogan of Skowhegan, who admitted she shot and killed her husband, Gene Gogan, 62, while he slept in their Hartland home on Oct. 1, 1999. She then dragged his body to the couple’s truck, according to a story previously published in the Bangor Daily News, and drove to a remote area in Mayfield Township about 25 miles from the couple’s home where, she admitted, she cut him into 13 pieces.
Gene Gogan’s body was recovered a week later after Vella Gogan went to the Somerset County sheriff’s office with her sister and confessed. She served nearly six years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter.
· Jackie Bevins of Ogunquit, who was acquitted by a jury for the slaying of her husband, John “Jack” Bevins, on April 3, 1990. The jury ruled that the restaurateur acted in self-defense when she pumped 15 bullets into her husband. Bevins today serves on the Ogunquit Board of Selectmen.
· Carol Graves of Hancock served more than 12 years in prison for the 1996 slaying of her 71-year-old father who, according to published reports, was a physically and verbally abusive bully. Gov. John Baldacci commuted her sentence by 18 months in his first official pardon since he took office.