"Having experienced coercive control both as a child and as an adult, I did not know I was being abused because it didn’t fit the description I had learned. If these behaviors had been defined as abuse under the law, I would have known what was happening to me was wrong."
"To me, the most important outcome would be for judges, lawyers, police and anyone who deals with domestic violence victims, to be re-trained to understand all the variety of tactics abusers use to destroy their victims, not just the physical violence."
Murder of Jennifer Gauthier Magnano
Investigative Report November 2009
Michelle Cruz, JD, Office of the Victim Advocate
During the late evening hours of August 23, 2007, Jennifer Gauthier Magnano’s four month struggle to be free from her abusive husband came to a violent end when she was murdered by her abusive husband, Scott Magnano, who then turned the gun on himself and took his own life. The State of Connecticut’s Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA), whose charge it is to assess the services provided to crime victims as they journey through the criminal justice system, has conducted an investigation into the services, or lack of, provided to Jennifer and her three children, when she, for the first time, bravely attempted to flee her abusive and controlling husband. Sadly, this report demonstrates that Jennifer and her children were met by many unnecessary and avoidable obstacles in their plight to be free from Scott Magnano’s abuse. Although this report highlights those obstacles and gaps in services to crime victims, it should be clear that the actions of Scott Magnano alone caused the untimely and violent end to the life of a beloved mother of three, Jennifer Magnano. The purpose of this investigative report is to retrace the steps taken by Jennifer Magnano through review of various documents, statements, reports, as well as information gleaned from numerous interviews from both agencies and individuals. Once the facts were established, the OVA then assessed whether the systems in place to protect domestic violence victims from harm at the hands of their abuser were appropriate and, more importantly, were being administered in the manner intended by the legislature and policy makers in the state.
It has been twenty-six years [now 39 years] since Connecticut hit the radar regarding the incidents involving the Torrington Police Department, the assault on Tracy Thurman’s *life and subsequent lawsuit, which forever changed the laws as they pertain to domestic violence. This investigation, unfortunately, highlights that we are still losing the battle against domestic violence. We have a long way to go. According to The Department of Public Safety in 2006, there were a total of 135 murders in the state, twenty-five (18.15%) of which were identified as domestic related1. Although many of the attitudes and reactions to domestic violence have changed externally over the past two decades; many of the same internal attitudes and beliefs have remained stagnate and unchanged over the past two decades within our society. The laws will continue to evolve as we learn how better to protect battered persons; but it is time for the attitudes and beliefs of the professionals who deliver services to domestic violence victims to change as well.
It is most distressing, that no one, in the entire criminal justice system, ever referred Jennifer and her family to the OVA. Had Jennifer been referred to the OVA, she would have been able to address the failures in the system immediately and, hopefully, with the assistance of the OVA, she would have been able to access the protections that should have been in place for herself and her young family.
The Murder-In-Slow-Motion of Jennifer Magnano
e l l e k a m i h i r a
director / producer
On August 23, 2007, Jennifer Magnano was shot dead by Scott Magnano on the front steps of her house in Terryville, Connecticut. She was 42 years old at the time of her death and mother to Jessica, 21, David, 16 and Emily, 9. Like most domestic violence homicides, Jennifer's murder received no media outcry.
The murder was the final act of 15-year campaign of terror that Scott Magnano subjected his wife Jennifer and their children to. Beginning early in their marriage, Scott took complete control over every aspect of life. He isolated the family, and used an elaborate regime of rules and brutal punishments – humiliations, threats, coercion, cruelty, sexual abuse and violence – to subjugate and control everyone in the family.
Five months before the murder, Jennifer and the kids pulled off a brave escape. Once free, the family did everything they was supposed to do and told to do, but they were unable to find assistance in Connecticut. Desperate, she and the children hopped on a 3-day train ride to California, without money or food, where the only shelter in the country who agreed to take the whole family, was located.
In California Jennifer and the kids received the help and protection they needed and begun to recover from years of trauma. Back home, Scott begun to work the family court and criminal justice systems. Incredibly, the Connecticut system ignored, dismissed and neglected Jennifer’s reports and charges against her abuser and instead sided completely with Scott. He was given custody of the children sight unseen, and when a distraught Jennifer begged to stay and fight from California, the CT courts told her she must come back to argue her cases in person. Being a law-abiding person, and under threat of arrest and losing her children, Jennifer returned to CT, and with the help of a good lawyer won her divorce, custody and the family home after a lengthy court battle.
Fully aware how dangerous her ex-husband was, she had no intention of spending a single night in the home she escaped. Accompanied by police escort, she and the children went to the house to pack up belongings to leave. The police ‘swept’ the house and gave her the clear to enter, but Scott was lying in wait, and ambushed Jennifer and shot and killed her in front of the children, then turned the gun on himself, leaving three children orphaned and traumatized for life.
Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a woman. 76% of murders happen on separation and Laura Richards estimates that about 80% of murders happen in the first six months after leaving. Looking at Scott's coercively controlling behavior pre-separation, and his stalking behavior post-separation, and the lengths he would go to get Jennifer back within his control, using both the criminal justice system and family court system to track her down and entrap her, shows yet again the close correlation between coercive control and homicide.
The local news stories at the time: