Murder Outside Pa. Ice Cream Shop Prompts Review of Protection From Abuse Law

The murder of a woman by a former boyfriend who then killed himself outside a central Pennsylvania ice cream shop last fall has prompted state lawmakers to take another look at the commonwealth's protection from abuse law.

State House members last week unanimously adopted a resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission, the research organization that serves the General Assembly, to examine whether "blind spots" or "gaps" in the current law place victims at risk.

State Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Lebanon, said she sponsored the resolution following the Labor Day murder of Stacey Pennington, 46, of South Lebanon Township, outside The Jigger Shop near the victim's Gretna Emporium. Police said she was killed by Patrick Derr, 47, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Pennsylvania law allows victims of domestic violence to seek a judicial order preventing their abuser from making further contact with the victim. Authorities said Pennington had obtained a protection from abuse order against Derr, a former boyfriend who was scheduled to be sentenced in two days after pleading guilty to assault and harassment.

Although the law has provided helpful and even life-saving aid to domestic violence victims, Gingrich said in a release that "recent events" prompted her to seek another look at possible deficiencies that can be corrected.

The resolution said "the real-world experiences of advocates, attorneys, law enforcement officers, judges, victims and family members demonstrate that further improvement in the law or its application may be possible and desirable." The commission is to examine practices and procedures of implanting the law — with the emphasis on identifying any "blind spots or gaps" — and report any findings or recommendations within nine months.

"Of course, no law is perfect, and no law can guarantee a victim's absolute safety," but lawmakers must constantly evaluate the effectiveness of laws and try to improve them, Gingrich said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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