CONCORD, N.H. – His voice breaking at times, the father of a New Hampshire woman shot to death by her estranged husband has testified in favor of a bill Tuesday that would beef up the penalty for a domestic-violence related assault.

The bill would make assault by strangulation a felony. At least 15 states have a such a law, and similar bills are pending in six others, according to data collected by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

John Cantin testified before legislators Tuesday that two days before she was killed in October, his daughter Melissa Charbonneau, 29, was assaulted by her estranged husband, Jonathan Charbonneau. Cantin said Charbonneau threw Melissa down the stairs, dragged her into the living room and choked her in her Manchester home.

Charbonneau was arrested on a simple assault charge, but because the crime is a misdemeanor under state law, he was freed from jail after paying $30 bail.

Cantin, whose wife, Claire, sat next to him crying, described how police took photos of Melissa’s bruises and served Charbonneau a restraining order. On Oct. 22, Cantin said he accompanied Melissa to the house to get some items when Charbonneau showed up with a hunting rifle.

“I saw my daughter shot and killed before my eyes by her husband, who was bailed out for $30 less than two days before,” testified Cantin, who was shot in the back. Charbonneau eventually killed himself.

Had the assault been deemed a felony, the shooting would never have happened, Cantin said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard the testimony, recommended passage of the bill, which has already been passed by the House. It would make assault by strangulation a second-degree felony and carry a sentence of 3½ to seven years.

Committee members said they would recommend it become a first-degree felony, which carries a sentence of 7½ to 15 years.


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