DOJ: News Release

McGrath Forms Team to Review Domestic Violence Fatalities

HELENA – Attorney General Mike McGrath on Wednesday announced the formation of a domestic violence fatality review team designed to better coordinate multi-agency efforts to protect those most at risk of domestic homicide.

According to McGrath, the idea for the team arose out of the October 1999 Sullivan double-murder/suicide that left Butte teacher Kathy Sullivan, her boyfriend and her former husband dead.

“The team will take a close look at what happened in situations like that and find out if there were any gaps in the system we use to protect battered women,” McGrath said. “The whole purpose of the team is to prevent tragic episodes like this in the future.”

Matt Dale, director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Victims’ Services, will coordinate the Montana team. Dale explained that fatality review teams examine fatalities caused by domestic violence and try to determine where the protections built into the criminal justice system may have broken down or left gaps. The team then makes its findings and recommendations available statewide.

Dale said members of the team will work with their counterparts in law enforcement, the courts and victims’ services during the review process.

Appointed to the team were:

  • Deb Bakke, victim advocate with the Helena Friendship Center
  • Brian Fischer, Helena Police Department
  • Wallace Jewell, Helena Justice of the Peace
  • Judy Wang, prosecutor for the City of Missoula
  • Cindy Weese, director of the Missoula YWCA

“This group will bring an extraordinary depth of experience and commitment to a difficult, but very valuable task,” McGrath noted.

The group took part in a two-day training program in Helena earlier this week. Neil Websdale, a nationally recognized expert on fatality review teams, led the training. The program included an overview of the concept of fatality review teams, risk assessment and management, and its links to safety planning. Finally, the trainees conducted a mock review based upon an actual domestic homicide case.

Websdale is a professor of criminal justice at Northern Arizona University. He is co-director of the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative based at the University of Pennsylvania. He also consults for the Violence against Women Office, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

He is the author of Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System: An Ethnography; Understanding Domestic Homicide and Policing the Poor: From Slave Plantation to Public Housing. He also co-edited Making Trouble: Cultural Constructions of Crime, Deviance and Control.

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