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About six months before she was murdered, Renee Henneberry Clark tried to take out a protection from abuse order against her killer. It was denied because Philip Clark was her brother-in-law and not a household member, even though he lived in an adjacent apartment in Hampden.
A law that went into effect in September amended Maine law to allow judges to issue protection and harassment orders against blood relations and relatives by marriage. It was approved last year by the Legislature as a result of Henneberry Clark’s slaying.
Previously, the law just covered intimate partners, people living in the same home, or who are dating or have been dating. Henneberry Clark, 49, did get a criminal trespass order against her brother-in-law, but it did not require him to surrender his guns as a protection from abuse order would have.
Clark, 56, of Hampden is serving a 43-year sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren. He was convicted by a Penobscot County jury in November of intentional or knowing murder for shooting Henneberry Clark 10 times her bedroom.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who prosecuted Clark, called the change in the law a “positive step.”
“The change in statute to include victims like Renee Clark, who are related by consanguinity [blood] or affinity [marriage], as a person who is eligible to seek protection against an offender, is a very positive step,” she said Friday. “While we will never know if a protection order would have saved Renee’s life, it is certainly an additional tool for victims of abuse.”
LD 496 was sponsored by state Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, at the request of Henneberry Clark’s daughter, Bethany Henneberry of Glenburn, and Henneberry Clark’s attorney, Ezra Willey of Bangor. Her district includes Hampden, where Henneberry Clark was born, raised and died.
Guerin said Sunday that the judicial system can be confusing for Maine residents.
“I was glad to sponsor a bill that brought clarity to our available protections, thus increasing the safeguards for people who are in danger,” the senator said. “Renee’s tragic death brought to light these necessary improvements which will hopefully save other families from the heartache and grief experienced in this case.”
At a hearing on the bill in April 2019 before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, Guerin said: “PFAs are meant to protect people, and in this case, a definition stopped Renee from getting the protection she clearly needed. I hope that you will support this change in law so that tragic events like this will hopefully be avoided in the future.”
Willey told the committee that he had helped Henneberry Clark obtain a protection from abuse order against her husband, 58-year-old Frank “Chuck” Clark of Hampden, and had been retained to handle her divorce from him. He said that when she was denied the order against her brother-in-law, she was not told that she had the alternative of seeking a protection from harassment order, which she did not do.
The original bill sought to have judges explain alternatives to those denied orders for protection or harassment. That provision was struck after it was opposed by the judiciary, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and other groups.
Julie Finn, legal analyst for the court system, testified that providing such advice “would require a judge to act more as an advocate than as a neutral unbiased arbiter of issues raised in the pending proceeding. It is important not to cross this line.”
Instead, the law requires that court clerks give people applying for protection orders written contact information for legal and social service resources, including organizations that advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The judiciary is not keeping track of how often the new law is used by people seeking protection orders, according to Amy Quinlan, spokeswoman for the court system.