The deaths of Amy, Monica and Coty Lake at the hands of husband and father Steven Lake may be the tragedy that brings major reform to how the criminal justice system handles dangerous domestic violence cases.

The June 13 triple murder-suicide is becoming a rallying point for changes in the system from an unofficial coalition of domestic violence groups, leading Republicans and Democrats and the state’s top judge and public safety official.

“Change will occur,” said Brian Gagan. “I can guarantee you that.”

Gagan was part of a four-man team of former police officers — now academics and consultants — who recently released a “domestic violence psychological autopsy” of the Dexter incident.

The team interviewed 69 people this year to discover the systemic causes behind the murders. It cites multiple failures by police, prosecutors, the courts, bail commissioners and the Legislature.

Among the failures: bail commissioners set “ridiculously low” bail of $2,000 twice after Lake was picked up for threatening and stalking his wife. In both cases, he was bailed out by his father in a matter of hours.

Although this was the most damning report yet on the pretrial criminal justice system, it is not the first time problems have been raised by experts — and then mostly ignored.

But this time, the response may be different.

Those coalescing behind a change include Republican Gov. Paul LePage; his public safety commissioner, John Morris; state Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, the leading House Democrat; Chief Justice Leigh Saufley; Attorney General William Schneider; Evert Fowle, a district attorney; and advocates with social service and law enforcement backgrounds.

“It takes a long time and sometimes a horrible tragedy for people to put this together,” said Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition To End Domestic Violence and vice chairwoman of the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse.

One of the focal points of legislative changes will be the way the state sets bail for defendants accused of domestic violence.

Except in murder cases, bail is not set by a judge. It is set by one of the state’s 115 bail commissioners. There are no job requirements to be hired; bail commissioners get one day of training a year; and they are independent contractors paid by the people they set bail for, not the courts.

This beleaguered system has been changed very little since it was established by the Legislature in 1883.

‘Orphan’ system

The bail commissioners come under the direction of the state’s judiciary and Saufley, who has been working behind the scenes to improve it with the limited funds and laws available to her.

This year she was able to reinstate a position that will help train and select bail commissioners. The Baldacci administration eliminated the job during a budget crunch; LePage and the Legislature restored it.

But generally the bail commissioner system has been “an orphan within state government,” Saufley said.

“The Legislature will have to look whether it wants to unwind this ancient system of bail commissioner,” she said, adding that she doesn’t see that happening soon because of the costs involved.

In the meantime, though, a number of changes from politically strange bedfellows are making their way towards public debate.

Gagan’s group proposes more than 50 reforms, some legislative and some procedural. Among them are nine changes to the bail system, including that in cases such as Lake’s, a District Court judge, not a bail commissioner, should set the bail.

It also recommended that in most cases in which terrorizing, assault or other violence has occurred while the defendant has been ordered to stay away from a spouse, the defendant should be jailed until a trial.

‘The training and the budget for bail commissioners has so drastically been restricted,” Gagan said, “it’s no surprise that cases have slipped through the cracks.”

Public Safety Commissioner Morris said he has been meeting with the governor, Schneider and the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse to come up with legislation for the 2012 session.

The governor’s bill is still being worked on, but Morris said it would address the bail issue.

Like Gagan’s group, LePage administration has the idea to take bail decisions in serious domestic violence cases out the hands of bail commissioners and have them handled by a judge.

“Judges have more training and they are more experienced and are able to assess the danger associated with” a defendant, Morris said.

Evert Fowle, district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, has been a critic of the bail commissioner system. The Morning Sentinel has reported he too is submitting a bill to put judges, not bail commissioners, in the decision-making role in the most serious domestic violence cases.

Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, a lawyer, has submitted a bill that also puts bail decisions in violent domestic cases in the hands of a judge, who could require defendants to wear an electronic monitoring device that tracks their whereabouts for authorities.

Perhaps the most far-reaching idea would provide a “risk assessment” tool that would be used by police and bail commissioners.

Using science

One such process used now in other states and Canada, the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, calculates how likely spouses are to assault their partner again.

The 13 yes-or-no questions in the assessment cover the defendant’s history of violence, antisocial behavior, substance abuse and other factors.

Rep. Cain’s bill, which will be brought up next year, would mandate the use of a “standardized risk assessment in the management of domestic violence crimes.”

It would require law enforcement and the state Department of Corrections to set up processes to implement risk assessment statewide over the next two years.

“We need to learn from the horrible things that happened in the Dexter case,” Cain said. “We need consistency, reliability and accuracy in the bail process.”

The governor’s pending legislation will offer a similar idea.

Meanwhile, Sagadahoc Sheriff Mark Westrum, a critic of the bail commissioner system, is about to start a model program using an assessment tool in his county.

Westrum challenges the comments from some bail commissioners who say they can make a reasonable risk assessment with the information they have now because they personally know most of the people in their community.

Brian Rideout, a bail commissioner in Piscataquis County, said, “Ninety percent of these guys, I know,” but he added that sometimes he has to “pry out” of police the criminal histories of a defendant.

‘The bail commissioner may think he knows, but you never really know what a person is capable of,” Westrum said, but a system based on verifiable data will go a long way to making better decisions.

Rideout said the recent public attention on bail has created “a really touchy situation now” and noted that Judge Robert Mullen, who oversees bail commissioners, has focused more on domestic violence in the recent annual training session

The Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse has been working with legislators and the governor’s office on the pending bills.

Julia Colpitts, vice chairwoman of the commission, said a central problem “is that bail commissioners don’t have enough information to make a reasoned decision in the case of someone arrested for domestic violence.”

Even in the rare cases when a bail commissioner has access to a full criminal record, she said, that is not enough to assess the risk, which is why she is among those pushing for a scientifically based assessment.

Saufley said, “We’re moving, I hope, more rapidly to a more objective risk assessment tool. Anyone can be misled by another human being. The more we step away from that and rely on the science, I think the better we will be. But it’s all nascent now.”

In the report by Gagan’s group, he and his co-authors address the political side of changing laws and attitudes about domestic violence.

They say their recommendations should be adopted “in short order … despite the roadblocks that will be attempted by a dramatic minority of decision makers, leaders and professionals who do not accurately understand the importance of preventing [domestic violence homicides].”

Colpitts’ comments, based on her years of experience on the front lines of the issue, echoed the report’s view:

Reports, she said, “don’t get things done” on their own.

“There’s been a history of inaction,” she said. “That needs to stop.”

This story is part of a continuing series called, “Maine’s Bail System: A 19th Century Holdover.” Contributing writers Emily Guerin and Mary Helen Miller provided research for this story.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonprofit and nonpartisan journalism organization that provides in-depth reporting as a public service to its Maine media partners. The email address is mainecenter@gmail.com. The website is pinetreewatchdog.org.

47 replies on “Shooting of Dexter family brings bipartisan focus to domestic violence bail decisions”

    1. Nothing has changed and none of the recommendations will be implemented as they are basically liberal feel good babble from a mass cop, wanna be liberal politician district attorney and a cop from the other maine. The constitution guarantees certain rights to united states citizens and if we could change it for every little issue then it would be pointless. The only thing I agree with is having a real judge handle bail but I also think orders should only be signed by judges as well.

      1. The constitution guarantees my right to bear arms and it should remain that way; however, I am capable of using one to defend myself.  I would use one in a heartbeat, and furthermore, I would not feel the slightest bit guilty if the person I dropped with it acted in the manner this guy did.  I’ve been stalked before – I didn’t put up with it then, and I would never put up with it ever.

        That said, not everyone is me, and many people aren’t capable of using a gun to defend themselves.  I don’t see it as a ‘liberal’ issue.  I’m pretty fed up with the ‘liberal/conservative’ excuses I hear all the time.

        In fact, most of the time I hear about how much it costs to keep someone in jail and/or that there isn’t enough room in jails to keep people who do this in them from the so-called “conservative” camp.   In other words, there are excuses all around.

        Enough already.  It’s time to make an example out of people who threaten others.

        1. Theres a gun for every size and shape person out there, and there is professional training for civilians that rivals most military training. 

          1. Listen, personally, I agree with you; however, there are always going to be people who will never breathe near a gun much less pick one up. Any person who exhibits any kind of bullying behavior at all (from the earliest possible) age needs to be held accountable for it one way or another.  Unfortunately these days, we ‘discuss’ our feelings and find ‘strategies’ for ‘conflict resolution.’Yes, that may work for some, but every once and a while, the only thing a bully understands is a size 9 boot between the eyes.

            We must teach our children early on not to put up with that kind of behavior and to not become involved with anyone who even begins to exhibit that kind of behavior IMO.

  1. Steven Lake’s dad should go to prison for helping his son commit those murders. If the people who posted bail for others were held accountable you would see less of them bailed out. The cops can only do so much. There should be a program that teaches a domestic assault victim how to use a gun and be comfortable with using it. Two in the body and one in the head and the looser will never bother them again. It’s time to stop cowering in the corner. God didn’t create man equal, Smith and Wesson makes them equal.

    1. If you read the reports, you’ll see that the gun collection was handed over to the Lakes by Amy’s parents. They didn’t feel comfortable having all those guns. Stephen Lake took two guns when his parents were out. The guns should not have been at any house where Stephen would be able to so easily steal a few. But don’t think that would have prevented him from getting a gun. I’m sure he knew lots of people he could steal guns from.

        1. She would also have needed an alarm system or a good dog. It looks like he got in quietly. No 911 calls from the cell phones or anything. Just having a gun in the house is not enough.

      1. I cannot understand why Amy’s parents would have given the guns to the Lakes. How stupid. They need to take some responsibility for the shooting in light of this stupid move.

        1. It looks like nobody, including Amy, was really expecting it to go this far. Otherwise, you would expect her to have a loaded gun beside the bed.

          1. Then what was her reason for getting the restraining order, she said she was scared he was going to harm her. Did she think having him arrested and constitutionally violated while she slapped him in the face by living in a house I’m sure he helped pay for and not let him see his own kids was going to make him not want to hurt her anymore?

        2. If you knew Amy or her family, you would know that they are one of the nicest families that you could ever meet and for you to attempt to blame them in anyway for the deaths of Amy, Coty & Monica is disgusting!!  I knew them all including Steven and his family and unless you do, don’t make such ignorant comments!   Amy did everything to protect her kids and Amy wasn’t a mean person, she just wanted Steven to get the help that he needed, that is all she wanted from him.  She moved many times to unknown locations to protect herself and her children, plus he had made threats against her family. I am sure that when they gave the guns to Steven’s family, it was due to Steven wanting them out of the home of the Bagley’s.  Because of who the Bagley’s are, I am sure that they never in God’s name thought that Steven’s parents would allow him to get the guns…. So if you don’t know these people or only know what you have heard on the news, you don’t know everything to be making judgements like you are and voicing them for all to read!  I don’t imagine it would have mattered if Amy had a gun or not – not that I can picture her with one, but if she didn’t have time to get to her cell phone which I am sure was right by her bed, a gun wouldn’t have helped since he snuck in during the early morning hours.  The Bagley’s suffered one of the worst losses of anyone that I know and for you to say something like that about them only shows me that you have no idea of what you are talking about!!!!

          1. She posted her location and daily activities on facebook and obviously did not lock her doors. And dialing a cellphone provokes a reaction, pulling a trigger provokes bleeding and death.

          2. So Amy’s parents give the guns to their son in law’s parents. People have to realize DV is war. When in fear for a loved ones life, you don’t talk or give an inch to the relatives of the abuser. Blood is thicker than water. You also have to take the stand that no 1 can be trusted,  even if still considered to be “family” or extended family. DV victims have come to ME and legally changed their names, SSN and changed their children’s identity. I don’t think victims should have to run as if they are guilty but sometimes it is the only way to stay alive. better to be safe than sorry.

    2. I have nothing against someone buying a gun and taking classes then carrying it, but domestic disputes are not the time to arm one party and provide state funded training. That could lead to state sponsored murder.

          1. Why? So you can be shot in back? You only pull your gun as a last resort, if there is deadly force in front of you the last thing you want to do is turn your back.

          2. Yes my point was that you use a gun as a last resort. You cannot however get hit by someone then decide a month later that its time to ”defend” yourself.

            My favorite example of this is the movie ”enough” with jennifer lopez if I remember correctly, its a prime example of a pre meditated crime; Attempted murder, assault, breaking and entering, and conspiracy . Yet woman use it as an example of standing up for themselves.

          3. If you shoot someone for a simple assault then you should go to jail. This story is about murder not assault. 

          4. You cant defend yourself after you are murdered either. She should have had gun on her person, especially when answering the door. Him showing up with a shotgun was enough reason for her to kill him. But I’m assuming she was relying solely on society for protection and not locked doors and a .38.

          5. Did she really have the option to walk away?  Didn’t she walk away before? Didn’t she have a restrianing order which really wasn’t worth the paper it was written on?

            People need to teach their children that when someone doesn’t want you anymore, you don’t seek revenge.  The time to learn how to walk away is then.

            Obviously, given the excuses his parents gave for him snapping, they didn’t do that IMO.

      1. Who said the state should do the program. Everyone thinks the government needs to protect them. If the laws of this state can’t keep a criminal behind bars then you need to protect yourself. There are gun classes out there put on by privet instructors. Good luck trying to find a jury that will convict a woman for killing her ex while she was protecting her kids. Remember, it’s all about the children.

    3. I’m doubting that a spouse or ex-spouse is so calous as you to feel that it’s ok to mow down their ex in a hale of anger.  That was Lake’s logic: kill her because she wronged me.  Your answer, born from justifiable anger I am sure, is, well, simplistic.  Murderers are not necessarily logical.  Shoot him just doesn’t work because the victim knew him as the father of her children, her ‘ex’,  i emphasize “ex”, lover.  Women are gnerally kind and loving,  gentle folk.  You want her to “act like a man’?

        Kill him?   If only the answer were so simple.  It is not.  She had history with the man.  He, I say HE, was the mess up, not her,  or her beautiful, innocent children either.  The guy, who believed a gun would solve the problem, (like you)  thought he was right and therefore could kill.  He believed in violence.  She obviously did not.   Otherwise, she would have blasted him before he got to her door.  Who would think of the father of her children as a violent murderer?

        Lake used your logic:  smith and wesson will change her mind.  Violence breeds violence.  A gun is not the answer.  Guys like Lake believe in violence.  They do not believe in kindness.  He obviously did not believe in love.  Guns do not set an evil man free.  Just ask Hitler.  They do not protect the innocent either.  They express only anger and frustration, not justice.

      Just sayin.

      1. When you’re being threatened with death, you might wish you had the gun just in case you change your mind. 

        1. ya, life is sooo simple.  You are looking after the fact, in your arm chair…ya, life is soooo simple.  Amy was looking down the barrel of a gun from a man she gave herself to, someone she trusted and loved.  She should have been packin?

      2. Guns do not set an evil man free.  Just ask Hitler.  They do not
        protect the innocent either.  They express only anger and frustration,
        not justice.
        Why does law enforcement carry guns? I agree that if she were protecting herself the gun would be useless. But when it comes to her kids she would kill to save them.

      3. Angry people are very predictable, scared people however are very unpredictable. She would not be mowing down her ex in a hail of gunfire out of anger. She would do it out of fear for her kids and herself. People watch stuff like this on T.V. and think that’s how it goes. How can any sane person think it’s o.k. to shoot unarmed women and children.

    4. I agree. My philosophy is that if one of us has to put the other one 6 feet under, it ain’t gonna be me getting buried.  

    5. This story isn’t about the virtues of gun ownership.  It is about a system that fails to respond to violence, domestic and otherwise.  The system needs to be fixed.

      1. Exactly.  Someone who threatens someone else’s life should be allowed a ‘get out of jail for $10’ card.

      2. The biggest problem with the system is everyone thinks the system has to take care of them. It is impossible for the cops to protect everyone at the same time. As for the abuser, he has to sleep sometime. People need to take of themselves. Be a little proactive. Take control of your destiny.

      3. It is about gun rights when someone wants to make a law that revokes that right at a the mere mention of something that hasn’t been proven beyond reasonable doubt. 

  2. This is yet again simply the same story run over and over again, nothing new. Bail cannot by the constitution be unreasonable, theres nothing anyone can do about that without violating that right. It is illegal for the courts to use the bail system as a means of indefinite imprisonment. It is also illegal to sentence someone before being PROVEN guilty in a court of law, our current system is already dangerously close to violating the constitution. 
       And on the topic of guns, steven lake was prohibited from possessing a gun, amy lakes own parents gave his guns to his father so anyone crying for the dad to go to jail should also be crying for her own family to be in trouble as well.

       Quite frankly these organizations are using this tragedy to push a ridiculous feminist agenda that would side completely with women even in the face of overwhelming evidence that nothing happened. The report calls for anyone accused to be demoted to the level of convicted serial killer with no trial. There comes a time when someone being abused needs to either run or go buy a firearm and protect themselves, society cannot be responsible for people so weak they basically either require 24hr police protection or every ex boyfriend locked up for life ”just in case”.

    A final point I’d like to make is that evert fowle has probably made thousands of deals putting actual dangerous criminals back on the streets. He also is a district attorney and is not a representative in our legislature, therefore he should be doing his job as district attorney (we have a ridiculous amount of crime going on) and not worrying about submitting bills and being a politician.

    1. You avoid the key points of the article, firming up the bail bonding process and taking it out of the hands of “good ol’ boys” network for serious crimes, including Lake’s original actions against his family.  Also, this would be gender neutral.  Even though most of the abuse crimes are man against woman, there are enough of the reverse so that laws and policies should be gender neutral.  It’s not about being “weak” or “arming up”.  Anything otherwise is antisocial at best and evil/fatal at worst.

      1. By you’re logic the entire PFA system should also be judges affair as well. And anyone who’s gone to war with this system in the past can tell you its not gender neutral.

        1. That’s my biggest fear. I think a lot of innocent men will go to jail and be labeled for life because of this. If all a woman has to do is say “he scares me” and off to jail he goes, I wonder how many women out there would use this to get even. Hell has no furry like that of a woman scorned.

    2. This is treason and radical feminist assault on human rights.  Men will end up being automatically imprisoned until trial (could take a year) with absolutely no evidence of a crime other than a false accusation by any woman in their life.  It happens every single day in every single court in Maine, and crazy woman’s accusations are taken as absolute truth no matter how absurd they are.  The police are
      already forced to do whatever any accusing woman says.  Any wife will now be able to lie that she is being threatened by hubby and he’ll be held without bail and lose all
      access and custody rights to his children and marital assets–IMMEDIATELY.  This scam is already being done through PFA’s but now it will be even worse, because if and when the man gets out of jail he’ll finds he already lost everything he ever had just based on a false accusation by his wife/girlfriend.  And now the wife wouldn’t even have to do much lying to get him jailed since the state will immediately rush in to imprison
      him not based on what he did but based on a “risk assessment” of what crime he MIGHT commit for which he will be punished preemptively.  This is government presuming all accused are guilty and punishing them without evidence, or trial, or presumption of
      innocence. 

      Just look how quickly the entire State of Maine apparatus and the media kicked in
      to gear on this in lightning speed.  Was that a coincidence?  This ankle bracelet and bail propaganda has been in the works for a while.  Even though BDN readers have been commenting that we’ve had enough of this ONE case and all the insane inferences being drawn from it, here are the article, the crazy logic, and the laws to boot.  The
      State and the media have an agenda.  The domestic violence homicides are as common in Maine as getting hit by lightning twice.  People have a MUCH greater chances of dying from accidents or from bad food and prescription drugs, but no one is rushing out to pass laws about those huge killers.  

      It is absolute madness to surrender due process rights based on one case that no one even knows the full details of beyond what has been spun and fed to the public by the same authorities and the same media.  The Founding Fathers warned us that giving up freedom for security will yield neither.  What is being done by the government under the Feminist banner of domestic violence (fraud) is a totalitarian assault on the fundamental Rights and Liberties spelled out in the Constitution.  What this and other articles are advocating is treason and unconstitutional measures which will harm countless people. 
      Radical Feminism and its Domestic Violence industry is a TROJAN HORSE.

      1. I couldn’t agree more, and it makes me sick that we have a district attorney who is using this tragedy to gain support for what I assume will be a bid for office. And the fact that nobody doing this report speaks for the majority of maine.
        All this will do is escalate a divorce situation into a life of death scenario, get ready for a lot of real victims to disappear before they can every call the cops. and get ready for the amount of revenge use of PFAs to skyrocket

        1. The Domestic Violence fraud is being used by radical feminists, anti-gun nuts, politicians and the State as an endless power grab.  The LD 386 Bill pushed
          to give Police in Maine the power of mandatory seizure of all guns and mandatory bail conditions placed on ACCUSED men way before the tragedy in Dexter.  This is nothing less than a continuation of their open assault on the 2nd, 4th, and 14th Amendment using any obscure case and crazy logic they can dig up to justify taking more rights away.

          Any woman who lies about a man threatening her is enough “probable
          cause” to get the man arrested, have all guns seized by the State, and have him imprisoned or subjected to strict bail conditions.  They are NOT just talking of taking guns from the accused men, but ALL guns even from the women who accused them!  If you watch the hearing video linked below you will notice false statistics and biased language blaming men and guns for everything and claiming that women are just helpless victims not capable of using guns or defending themselves.  It’s all about more Rights to the State and less for the citizens.

          When some future tragedy will prove that seizing weapons does not prevent these tragedies these same radicals will come back to blame access to ALL guns and weapons as the problem.  

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8xePPJGt_M&feature=watch_response
          http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?LD=386&snum=125

  3. It’s too late to belabor the what ifs, especially when a dangerous and angry man is carelessly released back into society.  

    It should be the law that people charged with domestic violence and other violent acts in which people are wounded, should be confined without bail to await a court appearance. 

    Courts need to tighten up.  Police risk their lives arresting druggies and other dangerous people charged with assault with a deadly weapon.  In less than a few hours after being taken to jail, they’re walking the streets again.  Bail comes too easy.

    The Legislature should also consider a long overdue probe into the methods of handling distraught veterans suffering from shell shock, or, PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

    This past year, two veterans were shot dead by law enforcement officers who obviously felt threatened and feared for their lives when they confronted these two men.  

    A special committee should be appointed to  assess and revise current law procedure when dealing with similarly distressed individuals.  

    The only recourse for veterans suffering from PTSD or showing signs of psychiatric disorders, is to commit a crime, so that a judge can commit the person to state supervision.

    The Dover-Foxcroft case obviously needed more than just a restraining order.  Violence had been committed, yet the defendant was free to cause even more violence.   Ironically, and tragically, we have veterans crying out for treatment which they can only obtain by committing a crime.

    The state needs to address both issues and do it quickly.

Comments are closed.