SKOWHEGAN — A guilty verdict in a grisly murder trial in Bangor this month and a triple domestic violence homicide in Madison in July are fresh on the minds of local advocates as they seek to raise awareness of domestic violence with a candlelight vigil Thursday night in Skowhegan.

“They absolutely are front and center on our minds, there’s no question,” said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties. “The vigil takes place every year — we always want to be talking about domestic violence and about how to prevent it in the community — but this year with those two cases being so recent, they’re absolutely at the forefront of our minds as we prepare for the vigil.”

Robert Burton, 38 at the time, hovered over his girlfriend’s bed in June 2015 with duct tape and a knife ready to bind her wrists and ankles until she admitted having sex with other men.

His girlfriend, Stephanie Gebo, told her friends she was afraid of Burton, so she slept with a gun.

She didn’t want to involve police and never went to court to get a protection order. She shot Burton, who then turned the gun on her, killing her with three shots to the back at her home in Parkman.

He was found guilty of murder this month by a jury at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor and may spend the rest of his life in prison.

Burton’s mindset was what a biennial report completed by the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel in June 2016 described as “morbid jealousy.”

Of the 46 people who were victims of homicide in 2014 and 2015 in Maine, the two most recent years included in the study, 24 were killed by an intimate partner or family member, according to the study.

Perpetrators committed 21 homicides in 2014 — 14 of which the Maine Department of Public Safety categorized as “domestic” homicides. Offenders committed 25 homicides in 2015, 10 of which were categorized as domestic homicides.Together, the 24 domestic violence homicides committed during that two-year period accounted for 52 percent of Maine’s total homicides.

Over the past decade, domestic homicides have accounted for 47 percent, or about half of Maine’s total homicides. Each year since 2006 the domestic violence homicide rates have fluctuated, with a low of 38 percent of murders classified as domestic in 2007 and peaking a year later in 2008 at 66 percent, a figure repeated in 2014 when 14 of the 21 homicides in Maine were the result of domestic violence.

The report reviews cases for which the court process or police investigation have been completed. Some domestic violence homicides that occurred in 2014 and 2015 were not included in the report because those cases were still pending in court when the findings were collected.

Domestic violence can take many forms short of murder — stalking, verbal and physical abuse, refusing to allow an intimate partner access to friends, family, finances, even cell phones.

Andrew Maderios became so enraged at his live-in girlfriend the day after Christmas 2013 that he strangled her with both hands until she vomited on the floor of the home the couple shared in Pittsfield.

Maderios, then 29, of Pittsfield, a former Nokomis Regional High School music teacher, cleaned up the mess with a pair of his dirty boxer shorts and then stuffed the shorts in the woman’s mouth. He was sent to prison for three years and was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device during his first two years of probation.

On July 5 of this year Carroll Tuttle of Madison shot and killed his partner and their 26-year-old son, then fatally shot a neighbor and wounded another man before he was shot to death by police.

“This is an extreme case of domestic violence that has taken place here in Madison,” Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said at the time.

FINDING SUPPORT

It’s all about power and control, officials say. Friends, family and neighbors — witnesses — should speak up if they see anything out of the ordinary in a relationship. The abuse can be ongoing and linger in a household for years, affecting children, friends and even employment.

Education and awareness is the message from law enforcement, the Family Violence Project and the Somerset County Domestic Violence Task Force, which has scheduled a candlelight vigil and “speakout” Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. at Coburn Park in Skowhegan.

The idea, organizers say, is to get the word out that there is a support network available to victims of domestic violence and to let the perpetrators know there are consequences for offenders.

“Education is the best tool we have,” Maloney said. “If we don’t know about a case, we can’t prosecute it. So are we learning about more cases because victims feel stronger and they know that they’ll be heard and so they’re more willing to speak out, or are there simply more cases — we don’t know which one is the case.

“We do know we’re not seeing a decrease in our domestic violence case load, but the way we are handling it as law enforcement is far better than we did in the past.”

Maloney said that in Maine there is mandatory arrest for alleged domestic violence offenders, along with state mandated programs such as the Certified Batterers Intervention Program and increased use of ankle bracelets to monitor the movements of people arrested on domestic violence charges.

“That’s a program where we attempt to teach empathy to someone who has a domestic violence conviction,” she said of the CBI program.

Despite the fact that Maine has a relatively low crime rate in comparison to other states, according to the Violence Policy Center’s recent study, “Women Murdered by Men: An Analysis of 2013 Homicide Data,” Maine ranked ninth highest in the nation for homicides that men committed against women.

In Maine, 82 percent of domestic violence victims are women, said Beth Crowe, education director at the Family Violence Project. She said there were 5,857 calls to the project’s hot line from Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016.

“We want to honor those who lost their lives due to domestic violence and we want to get the word out,” Crowe said of Thursday’s vigil. “It surprises me that I still meet people who are not aware of our services. We need to continue to put it out there that this is a real thing to try to get information to people.”

The Family Violence Project Maine also can be found on Facebook.

‘SPEAK OUT, SPEAK UP’

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said that in 2015, deputies responded to 156 cases of domestic violence. In 2016, the number dropped to 124 cases, but so far this year the number of reported cases of domestic violence already is up to 126, with the seasonal holidays coming up, a time that can trigger increased stress and domestic tension.

“I believe that domestic violence has gone on since there’s been relationships and people living together,” Lancaster said. “Education — people are reporting domestic violence, which is important — people are more aware and society is not tolerating it,” he said. “We’re not saying it’s okay just because it’s in the home. We’re being very public about it’s not okay, and people, knowing that they have support, are not accepting that as a normal type of behavior.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Lisa Meacham, co-chairman of the Domestic Violence Task Force, said people are invited to meet at the gazebo in Coburn Park on the east side of Skowhegan at 6 p.m. Thursday for the candlelight vigil.

“We will have testimonies from community providers and community members, whether they are survivors of domestic violence or concerned individuals — everybody’s welcome to attend that, to speak out, speak up,” Meacham said.

From Coburn Park, people will march to the Skowhegan Town Office where there will be a round table discussion for people to find resources and people to connect with.

“Again it’s about education — educating our community,” she said.

On Saturday, starting at 8 a.m. on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield, there will be a 5K race/walk against domestic violence. The race begins and ends at Prescott Hall. All proceeds will benefit the Family Violence Project, whose mission is to end domestic violence by increasing victim safety, empowering survivors and advocating for social change.

Ken’s Restaurant in Skowhegan also is donating proceeds from the sale of desserts to the Family Violence Project.

“We’ll never stop,” Maloney said. “We’ll keep going. There’ll never be a time when we don’t need to do this. We always need to be making sure that that message is being given to the public that violence is unacceptable.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow