NH gov signs strangulation assault bill

By Norma Love
Associated Press Writer / May 4, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—Gov. John Lynch signed a law Tuesday making assault by attempted strangulation a felony in New Hampshire in memory of a woman fatally shot by her estranged husband two days after he was released on bail for choking her.

The law was adopted in memory of Melissa Charbonneau, of Manchester, who was attacked by Jonathan Charbonneau in October.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, treats attempted strangulation as a second-degree assault and will carry a sentence of 3 1/2 to seven years.

It has widespread support among victims' advocates and law enforcement. At least 15 states have similar laws, and a half dozen states are considering measures, according to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Charbonneau's father, John Cantin, said the law will help others in violent relationships reach out for help.

Cantin and his wife, Claire, could not hold back tears as Lynch signed the law, then hugged them both. Lynch then signed a copy of John Cantin's remarks thanking them for their courage in fighting for the law's passage. Cantin said he plans to give the signed statement to Melissa's 7-year-old son, Jonathan.

"We have great memories of her," he said after the signing. "We wish we could have more. I feel bad for the little guy. He has no mother or father."

Two days before she was killed in October, Melissa Charbonneau's estranged husband threw her down the stairs, dragged her into the living room and choked her in her Manchester home. He was arrested on a simple assault charge, but because the crime is a misdemeanor under state law, he was released from jail after paying $30 bail.

On Oct. 22, Cantin said he accompanied Melissa, 29, to the house to get some items when Charbonneau showed up with a hunting rifle. Charbonneau shot Melissa and as Cantin tried to carry her to safety, Charbonneau shot Cantin in the back.

Associate Attorney General Ann Rice said abusers use strangulation as a tactic to silence, coerce and control victims. She said it is frequently used, but not always easily detected.

"It's a lethal tool in the abuser's pocket," she said.

The law gives police the power to detain suspected abusers to keep the violence from escalating.

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