Review finds no fault in dismissal of protective order against Wilton man who shot former partner

  • File photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/1/2021 1:10:19 PM

A review of the denial of an order of protection for a woman who was then shot and critically injured by her former partner found no fault with the decision under current law, but made seven recommendations for improving court practices.

On Nov. 15, Richard Lorman, 55, of Wilton, waited outside of his former girlfriend’s workplace in Salem, Mass., and shot her when she left work, according to police. She was shot in the head, but survived the attack. Lorman then turned the gun on himself, and died at the scene.

The same woman had sought a domestic violence order of protection against Lorman two months prior. A temporary order was granted Sept. 21, but the final order of protection was dismissed by Judge Polly Hall on Oct. 20 for lack of a “credible, present threat.”

An internal review committee of the New Hampshire Judicial Branch reviewed the case, and concluded that the final hearing where the order was dismissed “was conducted in accordance with all applicable laws and protocols, as well as the principles for procedural fairness and proper judicial conduct,” according to the report issued following the completion of the investigation.

The committee concluded that the denial was a “reasonable application” of state law.

In addition to their findings on the domestic violence order, the committee, made up of Circuit Court and Superior Court judges and staff, took a larger view of the process and made several recommendations for the court to adopt moving forward.

Seven recommendations for improvements

The recommendations from the committee include ways to increase public knowledge among the public on both the process and the resources available to them, additional training for court personnel and updating the legal definition of “abuse.”

This last p oint was the issue which led to the dismissal of the order of protection against Lorman. Under New Hampshire law, in order to obtain a domestic violence order of protection, there are three standards that must be met: the people involved having a qualifying relationship, the defendant having committed one or more criminal acts specified by statute and there a “credible present threat” to the safety of the plaintiff.

In the case against Lorman, it was this third point that was found lacking, and the committee focused its review on how the law defines the term.

“To constitute a credible present threat, the defendant’s conduct must threaten the plaintiff’s physical safety, as opposed to his or her emotional or financial wellbeing,” the report states. “Additionally, the defendant’s threat to the plaintiff’s physical safety must be ongoing and specific.”

It is not enough, under the current law, for there to be a general fear for personal safety based upon past physical violence, recent nonviolent harassment or both paired together.

Multiple court cases have upheld this issue, according to the report, including the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that even in cases where ongoing behavior was having a negative impact on a persons emotional well-being, it might not constitute an “ongoing credible threat to physical safety.”

A long history

In the case against Lorman, his former partner, identified in the report by her initials, the committee found that there was a basis of a long history of interpersonal violence between the two, including coercion and control tactics.

Based on the woman’s testimony during her domestic violence protection order hearings, the woman alleged that Lorman was “sexually violent and coercive” and used sex as “punishment.” The woman told the court that she and Lorman would made “deals,” sometimes in writing, about various sexual acts as punishment. Hall found that the testimony revealed that Lorman was coercive and controlling, but that the sexual acts were legally consensual, at least in some points in the relationship.

The woman alleged Lorman assaulted her in 2016, causing bruises on her chest, legs and genitals, and that Lorman had told her about previous acts of violence in his past, related to participation in criminal organizations.

The woman also alleged Lorman had called her place of employment and members of her family to tell them “horrible things” and had isolated her and abused her emotionally and financially.

There were also multiple incidents more recently, leading to the woman’s attempt to obtain an order of protection. On Aug. 27, the woman alleged Lorman had reorganized his guns in front of her while angry, which sher perceived as an attempt to intimidate her.

On Aug. 30, Lorman reportedly searched the woman’s emails to learn that she had rented a room at a yacht club.

On Sept. 6, Lorman reportedly tracked the woman to Marblehead, Mass., using her cellphone and texted her messages telling her he knew where she was and using language such as “I will make you pay.” When the woman agreed to meet him in a public park, he allegedly yelled profanities at her, telling her “I am going to (expletive) you up. I am going to (expletive) up your whole life. … You can’t trust anything to be OK anymore. I am going to turn your world upside down. You’ll see. You’ll pay. You chose this.”

The woman told the court the incident at the park made her fear to return to the home she shared with Lorman and that it was the main motivation behind her desire to seek a protective order, and that she took his comments as a threat to her physical safety.

Lorman reportedly blackmailed the woman to agreeing to talk to him at their home on Sept. 15. She did not go to the meeting, but went to the local police, who advised her to seek a restraining order.

When a neighbor informed the woman Lorman had left the house, she returned to collect her belongings. Lorman returned while the woman was there and allegedly presented her with an “ultimatum,” threatening to tell friends and family “sordid details” of her personal life with her friends and family unless she agreed to be his “sex slave” for five days.

Police arrived during the confrontation, and ordered Lorman to return the keys to the woman and leave the home, which he did. The woman did not stay in the home out of fear of Lorman. On that day, Lorman allegedly began texting and calling her employers and family.

Dismissal of the protection order

While the committee ultimately did not find fault with Hall’s ruling on the dismissal of the order of protection against Lorman, they did note the court appeared to focus on the woman’s concerns about blackmail and damage to her reputation, rather than fears of physical harm.

The court, the report found, took statements about “[turning] your world upside down,” and “final ultimatum” to mean that Lorman would harm the woman’s reputation.

“The court understood the plaintiff’s expressed fear for her physical safety to be a generalized fear about what the defendant might do in the future, rather than a fear of specific violence as required to establish a credible present threat,” the report stated. “Judge Hall noted that her perception about the lack of present threat was strengthened by the absence of any testimony about acts of physical violence since 2016.”

The committee noted that with additional time and the ability to review the recording of the hearing multiple times, there were statements from the woman indicating she feared for her physical safety.

“Judge Hall, who did not review the audio of the hearing prior to meeting with the committee, candidly admitted she did not recall all of these statement from the hearing,” according to the report.

Still, the committee concluded “...the court’s understanding of the facts was not unreasonable, even if other jurists or members of the Committee may have reached different factual conclusions.”

The next steps

The committee noted that the current standards for defining “abuse” under the law fail to capture modern understandings of intimate partner violence and coercive control tactics used by abusers, doesn’t take into account how nonviolent behaviors can be a precursor to violence or use evidence-based practices for identifying violence risk.

In its recommendations, the committee suggested the court conduct a review of protection order forms, to make it more clear the elements a plaintiff is required to prove in order to gain relief; develop better tools to ensure that survivors of partner violence can access all protection order options; update the legal definition of abuse; increase awareness on non-precedent opinions in protection order cases among attorneys, advocates and the public; provide guidance to plaintiffs and defendants on what to expect and how best to prepare their case; explore steps the court can take to ensure survivors of abuse receive assistance from counsel and victim advocates; and offer training to victim advocates in completing petitions and preparing for hearings.

The New Hampshire Judicial Branch has already taken the first step in responding to the recommendations of the committee by setting up a multidisciplinary task force.

Chaired by New Hampshire Supreme Court Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, the task force will be conducting a systemic review of domestic violence cases in the court system.

The task force is expected to meet throughout the winter, and submit a final report by late February.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, your source for Peterborough area news.


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

20 Grove St.
Peterborough, NH 03458
603-924-7172

 

© 2021 Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy