CT lawmakers vow to boost protection for survivors after Milford domestic homicide

Despite steps to address issue over the years, 'We still have this scourge of domestic violence.'

A vigil held in memory of Julie Minogue, in Milford, Conn. Dec. 11, 2022. Minogue was killed in her Milford home last Tuesday night.
A vigil held in memory of Julie Minogue, in Milford, Conn. Dec. 11, 2022. Minogue was killed in her Milford home last Tuesday night.Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

State and federal lawmakers from Connecticut are vowing to take steps to increase protections and support for survivors of domestic violence following the alleged murder of a Milford woman by the father of one of her children.

Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz said she and Governor Ned Lamont “want to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.”

State Senator Mae Flexer said the legislature plans to revisit the issue in its upcoming session and more must be done to protect survivors and hold abusers accountable.

And U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Tuesday called for more protections for domestic violence survivors during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

He cited how Connecticut has implemented a host of measures aimed at tackling the issue over the years.

“Yet we still have this scourge of domestic violence,” Blumenthal said. “Most recently and most publicly, the death of a young woman, Julie Minogue, in Milford, Connecticut.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a file photo speaking from the Senate floor.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a file photo speaking from the Senate floor.

Screen shot courtesy of U.S. Senate

Police said Minogue, 40, was killed on Dec. 6 in a suspected ax attack inside her Salem Walk condominium by Ewen Dewitt, 42, the father of her 3-year-old son. Dewitt is being held on murder and other charges.

Days before her death, Minogue had obtained a restraining order against Dewitt after she reported to police he sent her more than 200 harassing text messages. Minogue told the judge who issued the restraining order she feared for her life.

The texts came after other abusive behavior from Dewitt in years past. Loved ones said Minogue “had tried multiple times to keep her and her children safe.”

That Minogue was killed despite efforts to protect herself has prompted renewed concern among advocates and local lawmakers.

“It’s terribly, terribly tragic,” said Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz. “The governor and I want to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again. We’re willing to look at legislation, and we’re doing everything we can to raise awareness and educate people to make sure this never happens again.”

Minogue’s death was the 12th intimate partner homicide in Connecticut this year. The state has averaged about 14 intimate partner homicides per year over the past two decades, even amid repeated legislative measures and other efforts to prevent such cases.

“Every time there is a tragedy like this one, we have to look and see what the facts are. What could have been done differently?,” Bysiewicz said. She said answers to that question will become clearer as more details about the Milford case unfold.

Bysiewicz said the Governor’s Council on Women and Girls, which she chairs, plans to examine the issue, and officials plan to work closely with the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) to explore what funding and other legislative solutions can help.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

More funding needed

Meghan Scanlon, CCADV’s executive director, said more funding is desperately needed.

She and other leaders of local organizations that provide services to domestic violence survivors wrote a letter to Governor Ned Lamont this month asking for financial help.

The letter said that “at least 104,366 victims stand to lose access to services from Connecticut’s victim service organizations over the next two years (2023-2025) without additional support.”

“When victims do not receive the support they need, especially as children, the long-term effects of trauma manifest in various ways, including chronic physical and mental health issues, depression, suicide, substance use disorders and difficulty maintaining employment,” the letter added.

Scanlon explained that federal funding to Connecticut for services for survivors of domestic violence and other offenses was slashed by roughly $14.8 million for the current fiscal year. In response, the Connecticut legislature and Lamont approved a state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that filled the gap.

Now, victim advocates and organizations are hoping the state will once again pick up the tab for the gap next year, which the coalition estimates is $13.2 million, Scanlon said.

Lamont has said in recent days he is committed to further strengthening state laws on domestic violence, but he has not provided specifics. He is scheduled to release his state budget proposal for the legislature to consider in early February; a spokesman said Lamont “has not made any decisions yet [on] what will be or not included in his budget proposal.”

For years, the federal fund, which is fueled by restitution payments, has been a lifeline for organizations like CCADV.

“It's how we fund most of the victims services in the state of Connecticut,” said Scanlon.

The money supports victims of a range of crimes. In the current fiscal year, about $4 million went to support domestic violence programs in Connecticut, including 18 shelters, temporary hotel stays, counselors and a domestic violence hotline.

But Scanlon said the amount of money going into that federal pot from restitution is declining.

The fund’s decline was one of a number of problems highlighted by a yearlong investigation into intimate partner violence Hearst Connecticut Media Group published in December 2021. The series uncovered various ways in which public systems, often struggling due to resource shortages, have failed to adequately support the tens of thousands of residents who are victimized by intimate partner violence each year, and most critically, those who are lost to abuse.

The state budget for this fiscal year included $1.4 million in additional funding for 18 full-time victim advocates for children and their families. Children and other family members of victims often suffer either direct abuse, trauma from witnessing it or other fallout. For example, in Minogue’s death and two other intimate partner homicides this year, children witnessed the killings.

Scarce emergency housing

The budget also routed $2.9 million in federal pandemic aid to help survivors with emergency housing costs and other supports.

The number of survivors and their families living in emergency shelters far exceed their capacity, and Scanlon said her organization is relying on hotels more and more.

“We are hoteling people like crazy,” said Scanlon. “That $2.9 [million] was just one time money this past fiscal year, so we're not going to see that again. We're plowing through that money.”

With half the fiscal year remaining, about $2 million has already been spent.

“The increase in [domestic] violence has definitely been a factor,” said Scanlon.

The hot housing market is also hindering domestic violence victims from being able to find affordable housing so they can leave the shelters. Many domestic violence survivors who have been issued housing vouchers to help them pay rent are not able to find anywhere to use them.

“We can't find housing units. One of the cheapest rents that we were able to find recently was in Waterbury for a two-bedroom apartment and it was like $1,700, which is insane,” she said. “This is a bigger systemic issue around access to affordable safe housing in the state.”

Last fiscal year, housing subsidies for survivors of domestic violence helped rehouse 371 adults and 473 children – a 17% increase from the previous year.

Until the housing market is fixed, Scanlon expects the domestic violence shelters to remain past capacity. State funding to support the domestic violence shelters has not seen an increase in over 10 years.

“We are always full,” she said of the 18 shelters, which each have on average 22 beds. “In the middle of the night, we will pull out a cot to house that person in the shelter overnight until we can figure out the next best thing to do.”

Calls for change

The killing in Milford marked the third Connecticut domestic-related homicide in recent weeks. In Naugatuck, Christopher Francisquini has been charged in the Nov. 18 killing of his infant daughter, and a married couple in Danbury died last week in a murder-suicide.

Other lawmakers have called for reforms in recent days.

Blumenthal told Hearst Connecticut Media Group last week that the federal government “has made some progress, but nowhere near enough” to combat domestic violence.

“In this instance, tragically, as often occurs, there were strong warning signs and a deeply disturbing history,” Blumenthal said, referring to Minogue’s death. “Of course, the investigation's still ongoing. But clearly, more resources and support are necessary for law enforcement to effectively enforce protective orders and other means of helping potential victims in times of grave threat.”

On Tuesday, Blumenthal raised the issue during a Senate nomination hearing for Rosemarie Hidalgo to serve as director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Blumenthal cited how, according to authorities, Minogue had obtained a protective order against Dewitt and reported to police when Dewitt allegedly violated that order by sending her 220 harassing text messages in the weeks prior to her death.

Days after Minogue reported the texts, police submitted a warrant application for Dewitt’s arrest last month. But prosecutors said they sent the warrant application back to police seeking more information and police never resubmitted the application. Neither prosecutors nor police have elaborated, but have noted the case is pending. On Wednesday, Dewitt was charged in connection with the harassing texts.

Ewen Dewitt, of Roxbury, appears with lawyer John Walkley, right, on charges in the killing of Julie Minogue at Superior Court in Milford, Conn. on Dec. 14.

Ewen Dewitt, of Roxbury, appears with lawyer John Walkley, right, on charges in the killing of Julie Minogue at Superior Court in Milford, Conn. on Dec. 14.

Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media

“She literally pleaded for help to the police department,” Blumenthal said at the Senate hearing. “Unfortunately for whatever reason, the warrant was not reissued and her death happened.”

Blumenthal asked Hidalgo, “How do we respond to the need for more enforcement of orders and protections when there is that moment of crisis and rage and threat and danger to someone like Julie Minogue?”

He asked Hidalgo to commit to reviewing Minogue’s case after the investigation in her death is completed to see “where we need to strengthen the system, what lessons we can learn from it, and how Connecticut can improve its system for better protecting survivors and victims of domestic violence.”

Hidalgo said she hopes to continue work underway to strengthen how law enforcement respond to domestic violence, including through better coordination with other organizations, improved training and developing specialized units within police departments “with the expertise to assess lethality and to make sure that individuals can be connected to critical services.”

Hidalgo said she wants “to strengthen the ability of every jurisdiction to conduct fatality reviews and to do a lot more upfront with lethality assessments and with services and prevention to try and prevent these kinds of horrific cases.”

Connecticut Sen. Mae Flexer said state lawmakers will also examine the issue.

“We’ve got to find ways to do more. And part of this is, we’ve got to hold people accountable” said Flexer. “All of these tragedies, there’s something to be learned.”

Flexer called Minogue’s death “a horrific tragedy” and said it has raised questions.

“When someone does take that brave step forward and asks for the order and is really explicit about how fearful they are for their life … what more can be done, particularly in a situation like this, where there’s a record not only of abuse but also disregard for the laws?”

“More of that information can be put before the courts,” she added. “And how can the courts evaluate the lethality risk? … We know that our courts also do a lethality assessment. But is there more that can be done to beef that up?”

State Senator Mae Flexer

State Senator Mae Flexer

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media