Report: Roughly half of murders in Maine involve domestic violence, continuing years-old trend

Posted April 24, 2014, at 4:12 p.m.
Last modified April 24, 2014, at 5:38 p.m.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — Last year, about half of Maine’s 25 homicide cases involved domestic violence. The victims were intimately familiar with their attackers: They were spouses or siblings, parents or even children.

In 2012, the figures were roughly the same, with about 44 percent of homicides in Maine involving family members or spouses killing those they were supposed to love most. It’s a trend that has held for years.

These murders “tear at the very fabric of our society,” said Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

“When someone murders the very person they’re suppose to cherish, it rocks us to our very core,” Colpitts said Thursday at the State House Hall of Flags.

She joined many other members of a state panel that reviews domestic-violence homicides in releasing a report full of recommendations on how to reduce deadly domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel releases such a report every two years.

The 68-page report outlines the detailed observations and recommendations made by the panel. In 2012 and 2013, the roughly 30 members of the board reviewed 21 cases of domestic-violence homicide that occurred between April 2009 and September 2013. The cases represent those that were closed during the review period.

Of those 21 cases, 17 homicides involved intimate partners, while the remaining four involved violence committed against family members other than a spouse. The 21 perpetrators attacked 27 victims. Nearly all the victims were killed, while several others were seriously injured and just one escaped the attack without injury.

Attorney General Janet Mills, also a member of the group, emphasized the effect domestic violence has on children, and called domestic violence “the No. 1 safety issue in our state.”

Of the 21 killings reviewed, one involved a father killing his 4-month-old child. In another case, a 6-week-old boy was in his mother’s arms when the attacker shot her multiple times in the back. Other children were forced to watch as one parent killed another. One was even put to bed by his father in the same room as his mother’s dead body, moments after she had been killed by the child’s father.

All told, the 21 cases of homicide exposed 14 children to killings by an abusive parent, the report states.

“That’s 14 children who lost one or both parents, 14 children of all ages, from three weeks to 17 years, whose lives were forever disrupted and traumatized,” Mills said. “We must not forget those children.”

The report includes dozens of pages of recommendations, including proposals for police, prosecutors, judges, health providers, state officials and the public. They include recommendations that:

• Law enforcement agencies increase collaboration with domestic abuse resource centers.

• Police officers offer victims and offenders domestic abuse referral services and other necessary information, similar to a “blue card” handed out by officers in the Bangor Police Department.

• Health care providers regularly screen all patients, in private, for physical abuse and coercive behavior.

• Schools offer ongoing and consistent education about domestic abuse and dating violence at all levels.

• The judicial system and police work even more diligently to secure all firearms that courts order be relinquished by perpetrators.

Lisa Marchese, assistant attorney general for homicide and member of the panel, said the group observed that the presence of firearms makes bad situations likely to become worse. More than half the domestic-violence homicides reviewed were perpetrated with guns, which continue to be the weapon of choice for killers.

“Domestic violence often escalates in severity over time, and the presence of a firearm increases the likelihood that it will escalate to homicide. All too often, the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun,” she said, quoting a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

John Morris, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said he encouraged everyone to read the report. He said he appeared on behalf of Gov. Paul LePage — who was a victim of domestic violence as a child — to support the panel and its findings.

“You all know and I know the governor is passionate to stop domestic violence early so that these homicides can be eliminated from the fabric of our society,” he said.

The report is available at maine.gov/ag.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

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