AUGUSTA — More than half of the domestic abuse homicides reviewed by a state panel were committed by someone who exhibited suicidal behavior before killing or trying to kill a family member or partner.
The panel also found that a handgun was used in most domestic violence homicides in Maine from 2009 to 2013.
Three of the victims of those domestic abuse homicides had protection from abuse orders against their killer, and five others had expired orders.
Of the 21 homicides studied by the panel, 14 were witnessed by children.
Those findings were among several patterns revealed in a report released Thursday by the Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel. Professionals representing a cross-section of disciplines – including health professionals, law enforcement and attorneys – make up the panel, which reviewed adjudicated homicide cases that occurred from April 2009 to September 2013.
The panel used the information to develop nearly 60 recommendations, ranging from stricter gun controls to encouraging faith communities to offer more support for victims of abuse.
Of the 21 homicides the panel reviewed, 17 were committed by a current or former partner or spouse. In the other four, the person was killed by a family member.
More than 66 percent of the killers – 14 of the 21 – showed signs of suicidal behavior before killing or trying to kill someone. Seven of those subsequently killed themselves.
The suicidal behavior included giving away large sums of money, saying goodbyes, making amends, buying a handgun or threatening suicide.
“Threats of violence and threats of suicide must be taken seriously,” Attorney General Janet Mills said. “Telling your boyfriend or girlfriend, ‘I can’t live without you,’ can quickly cross from innocuous to devastating. In the context of an abusive relationship these utterances are veiled threats of violence, with a strong undercurrent of manipulation and control. Recognizing the signs of abuse is key to preventing homicide.”
The panel made a number of recommendations involving firearms. These include having the state take firearms away from anyone who makes homicidal or suicidal statements and creating a repository of concealed-handgun permits accessible only to law enforcement.
The repository would include information about the status of a permit, including whether it has been suspended or revoked. The panel also called on the judiciary to create a method to track whether weapons have been confiscated.
“Firearms continue to be the weapon of choice,” said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who prosecutes homicide cases. “All too often the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the existence of a gun.”
Julia Colpitts of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence said it is up to friends, family and neighbors to report what they see and hear and up to judges, doctors and other professionals to hold potential suspects accountable.
Colpitts referred to the domestic violence murder case against Jared Remy, who is charged with killing his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Remy, the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, is accused of stabbing Martel to death after a decades-long history of domestic violence charges that never led to a jail sentence.
The panel found that 10 of the homicides it reviewed were committed by serial abusers. Colpitts also said there have been cases where violent behavior has been overlooked.
“That needs to change,” she said. “When someone murders the very person they are supposed to cherish, it rocks us to our core.”
• Create programs that enhance collaboration between law enforcement and resource centers.
• Urge health care providers to screen all patients for abuse and controlling behavior. The screenings should be private, regular and occur especially frequently during pregnancy.
• Offer consistent and ongoing school-based education about domestic abuse and dating violence.
• Create high-risk response teams that include multi-disciplinary professionals in each county or region.
• Assign an investigator in each state police troop to receive specialized training in domestic violence investigations.
• Ask judges to use legible handwriting when filling out protection from abuse orders. “If court orders are not legible, they cannot be enforced,” the panelists wrote.
• Increase training for court clerks, lawyers and judges about intervention programs.
Colpitts said people who have lost family members to domestic violence consistently urged the panel to make the deaths matter. Implementing the recommendations will help achieve that goal.
“They want to make sure that what happened to them will never happen to anyone else,” Colpitts said. “Our work doesn’t change the tragedy, but it offers one element of meaning.”
Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at: