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‘Amy’s Law’ ups sentencing guidelines for victims of domestic violence homicides

ST. FRANCIS, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage signed legislation on April 10 that will allow judges in the state to consider stronger sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence murders.

Amy Theriault

Also known as “Amy’s Law,” Maine legislators unanimously passed LD 449, An Act To Add Domestic Violence against the Victim as an Aggravating Factor in Sentencing for Murder.

State Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash sponsored the bill last year on behalf of the family of Amy Theriault, a young mother of two daughters whose ex-boyfriend murdered her four years ago in her St. Francis home.

Jesse Marquis shot and stabbed Theriault, 31, on May 31, 2014, and then ran off into the woods behind the home. Police arrested him following a six day manhunt. After a jury convicted him of murder, a Caribou Superior Court judge sentenced him in July 2016 to life in prison.

Jackson introduced the bill at the request of Amy’s mother, Barbara Theriault.

“This was a horrific, horrific thing that affected us all, it obviously affected this family to a greater extent but I don’t think anyone in the community, in the whole St. John Valley didn’t feel the tragedy,” Jackson said on Monday.

The Theriault family endured a harrowing two year legal process during which they feared Marquis might be sentenced to less than life in prison and possibly be released on probation after serving only 20 years.

“(Marquis) had several domestic violence assault charges and he’d just get these slaps on the hand and be released from jail,” Barbara Theriault said. “The big fear I had was that he was just gonna get 20 or 30 years (for killing Amy) and get out after a short period of time for good behavior. Then Amy’s children would have to deal with that fear [of him being out there]. They have to live the rest of their lives without their mother, so he deserves to live the rest of his life in jail.”

Members of Amy Theriault’s family toss purple carnations – the color of domestic violence awareness – into the St. John River following a memorial walk and candlelight vigil held in her honor in June 2014. Theriault was murdered in her home on May 31, 2014, by her former boyfriend. (file photo/Julia Bayly)

A person convicted of murder in Maine must be sentenced to prison for not less than 25 years. When first introduced, the bill sought to impose a mandatory life sentence on anyone convicted of domestic violence homicide. Lawmakers amended it before passage, however, to instead allow judges during sentencing to assign special weight to murders that result from an act of domestic violence.

Among the factors to be given special weight under Amy’s Law are:

— That the victim is a child who had not in fact attained 6 years of age at the time the crime was committed;

— That the victim is a woman whom the convicted person knew or had reasonable cause to believe to be in fact pregnant at the time the crime was committed; and,

— That the victim is a family or household member as defined in Title 19-A, section 4002, subsection 4 who is a victim of domestic violence committed by the convicted person.

“I think people want justice and someone getting [out on probation after a few years] in a situation like that is not justice,” Jackson said.

“When you lose a loved one like that it is the worst experience that you will ever have in your life,” Barbara Theriault said. “I needed to bring some meaning to Amy’s death and that is one of the major reasons that I fought for this bill and also to help somebody else that’s going through it. We knew nothing about domestic violence when this happened to us and the system is based on plea deals and these types of crimes don’t deserve plea deals. Amy couldn’t deal for her life.”  

Friends and family of Amy Theriault release hundreds of purple balloons following a memorial walk in her honor on May 31, 2015. (Julia Bayly | BDN)

Barbara Theriault said she and the rest of Amy’s family are thankful for Jackson’s efforts as well as to the governor for signing the bill into law. The family also appreciates the support they have received from the Hope and Justice Project over the past four years.

Amy’s Law will take effect sometime this summer, 90 days after the current legislative session comes to a close.

“I just know that I needed to do this for Amy,” Barbara Theriault said. “She has no voice now; we’re the only voice that she has. This is keeping Amy’s voice alive. It’s a great tribute to her memory and it’s bringing something positive out of her death.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

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