AUGUSTA — Almost half of the homicides in Maine continue to be caused by domestic violence, a rate that has remained stubbornly level for more than a decade, according to a state report released Tuesday.

Of the 37 homicides that were reported from 2016 to 2017, 16 victims died at the hands of a family member or intimate partner, according to the report. That rate, 43 percent, was close to where it’s been for more than 10 years.

Those findings were released during a news conference at the Maine State House on Tuesday. The report was authored by the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, a group first created by the Legislature in 1997 to review cases in which people have been killed by family or household members, then make recommendations for protecting victims.

For its 12th biennial report, the panel reviewed 15 cases from 2012 to 2016, including 12 that were classified as homicide and three that were classified as serious injury.

It found that 10 of the perpetrators were husbands, boyfriends or ex-boyfriends who killed or seriously injured their female partners, including a woman who was pregnant. It indicated that four of the perpetrators were parents who killed or seriously injured their children, while one was a grandmother who abused her grandson.

The authors included a number of other findings, including that there’s a lack of public health nurses and specialized investigators and probation officers who can provide coordinated care to victims of domestic violence. They also noted that it can be hard for law enforcement agencies outside of Maine to tell when domestic violence offenders have bail conditions originating here.

At the news conference, several officials addressed those observations, including Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, who is chairwoman of the panel focused on domestic abuse homicide.

The family of Amy Theriault, a 31-year-old Aroostook County woman who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2014, also came to the event and read a poem she had written before her death in which she chillingly concluded, “For now it is too late, Because I’m already dead.”

In her own remarks, Mills used Theriault’s poem to highlight one of the report’s findings.

Barbara Theriault reads a poem written by her late daughter Amy Theriault, a victim of domestic violence homicide, on Tuesday in the Hall of Flags of the Maine State House. Other family members of Amy Theriault attending were Ricky Theriault, father, Pam DuBois, sister, and Scott DuBois, brother-in-law. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“This poem shines a light on her feelings of helplessness and it expresses the feelings of shame and responsibility that she felt, that somehow by staying with her abuser, she did not fix the abusive situation,” said Mills. “One of the panel’s observations in this report is that public perception of the victim’s role and responsibility sometimes hinders the victim’s ability and willingness to report abuse, to testify or to leave the relationship.”

Later, Mills added: “It’s never the victim’s fault or responsibility to fix the situation. It is always the abuser’s choice and the abuser’s responsibility to stop the behavior. We each have a role in contributing to or changing the public perception.”

The report highlighted a series of other facts about the cases considered by the panel. For example, in 11 of the them, acquaintances were previously aware of the perpetrator’s abusive behavior. Firearms were used in 35 percent of the cases, while strangulation happened in 30 percent and knives were used in 10 percent.

While domestic violence remains a large driver of the state’s homicides, Marchese expressed confidence the group is helping expand the protections for victims of domestic abuse in the courts and other settings. She referred to the fact that almost 14,000 people sought help from the state’s domestic violence resource centers in the last year.

“We don’t know how many lives we’ve saved,” she said. “We can hear anecdotally about people engaging in proper behavior or holding more offenders accountable. I believe over the course of time, the in-depth work of the panel and the messages we put out through this report really do matter.”

The new report highlighted a variety of legislation that has been passed in the last year that aims to protect victims of domestic abuse. But there is still much work to do, according to another member of the panel, Francine Garland Stark.

Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, mentioned several pieces of legislation that were passed in the last couple of years that should help protect victims, including ones that allow domestic violence to be considered an aggravating factor in murder sentences and bolster the state’s batterer-intervention programs.

But she pointed to another bill, L.D. 524, that received strong support in the Legislature this year but ultimately failed to pass because of funding reasons. That bill, Francine said, would have made it a felony for someone to violate a protection from abuse order more than two times.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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