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Report: Domestic Violence Homicides Increased in 2006

The number of people in North Carolina who died last year as a result of domestic violence increased slightly over the previous year, according to a new report.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The number of people in North Carolina who died last year as a result of domestic violence increased slightly over the previous year, but that's not the only reason that victim advocates are calling for tougher laws targeting abusers.

They're also concerned that one woman was killed inside a domestic violence shelter in 2006 - something national advocates have said rarely happens.

Bonnie Woodring was staying in a shelter in the western North Carolina town of Sylva last September when her estranged husband pushed his way into the building and killed her with a shotgun.

"It really shook up the domestic violence community and made people reassess whether we're doing everything we can to keep battered women safe," said Marie Brodie, training and media relations coordinator for the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The coalition said Wednesday that at least 79 people were victims of domestic violence homicide in 2006. The number, based on reports from advocates and family members from across the state, was 70 in 2005 and 82 in 2004.

Fifty-five women, 19 men and five children were among the 79 victims, according to the report. Brodie said the number of children who witnessed the murders in 2006 - at least 35 - was especially alarming.

The report cautioned that the number of domestic homicides might have been higher because the organization depended on information from individual counties.

Advocates said they hope the Legislature will pass a bill making a second violation of a protective order a felony. And on Tuesday, a bill unanimously approved by the House would add stalking to the list of offenses a judge must consider before granting pretrial release. It would also amend domestic violence laws to increase reporting on homicides where the victim and perpetrator have a personal relationship.

The measure was sent to the Senate for consideration.

Darien Russell, whose daughter Keara Hart was killed by her boyfriend last April, said she hopes lawmakers will consider making abusers serve more time in prison. Damego Lee, who was sentenced to life without parole, had a history of abusing another woman before he was with Hart, Russell said.

"I fully believe that if the laws were what they should be, then my daughter would be alive today," Russell said.

While the coalition has tracked domestic violence homicides since 2002, Brodie said decreasing the number of those killed isn't easy. The best advocates can do is work for tougher laws and keep pressing for more money for shelters and prevention programs.

"The thing about domestic violence that makes it so difficult is that we don't know what abuser is going to become a murderer," she said.

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