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The Williamstown woman had blood running down her face when Vermont State troopers arrived at her home last December.

She told them her boyfriend, Doug Bedell, hit her with a glass bottle, according to court papers. She heard him in the living room, chambering what she thought was a rifle, and stating that he would kill her.

U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, Vermont’s top federal prosecutor, described the case as a “typical, terrifying story.” She has declared addressing domestic violence a top priority for her office, even though the vast majority of those cases are state-level crimes.

Federal gun laws can be used to take domestic violence offenders off the street and take guns out of the hands of people who would commit domestic violence offenders, she said.

“The gun is the hook,” she said.

Domestic violence case goes federal

That’s why Bedell is facing a federal indictment over the December arrest, as well as state charges of aggravated domestic assault and interfering with emergency services. One of the troopers found five guns hidden in the bathroom: three handguns, a shotgun and a rifle. He also found 1,643 rounds of assorted ammunition.

Bedell was convicted of breaking and entering in 1982, and of obstructing justice in 1992, Special Agent Eric Brimo wrote in a sworn statement. Those two felony convictions make possessing guns a federal crime.

He will be arraigned on the federal charge later this month; he’s currently being held without bail at the Northeast Correctional Complex. His lawyer did not return a request for comment.

The Bedell case, Nolan said, is exactly the kind of case she wants local law enforcement to send her way.

“We do have a particular domestic violence problem here in Vermont from my perspective,” she said.

Vermont’s domestic violence problem

Domestic violence killings make up a sizable portion of Vermont homicides. In 2018, six out of 16 cases were linked to intimate partner violence, according to the Vermont State Police.

The risk of a domestic violence homicide more than quadruples when a gun is present, Auburn Watersong testified in front of lawmakers last year. Watersong was the Vermont Network Against Sexual and Domestic Violence’s policy director.

Many people in Vermont with a history of domestic violence illegally possess guns, Nolan said, though it’s hard to pin down exact numbers.

In 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont  charged 44 people with gun crimes. A review of court records shows that the majority are not directly linked to domestic violence: drug offenses are often behind federal gun charges.

State prosecutors typically charge over 1,000 domestic violence crimes each year, and local police respond to thousands of incidents a year. Serious domestic violence filings have risen by more than 50 percent in the past decade, according to the Vermont Judiciary’s annual report.

Prosecutors often struggle to get convictions in those cases. Domestic violence crimes often hinge on the testimony of a victim and many judges, jurors and lawyers misunderstand abuse. 

A gun case relies less on the testimony of a victim, Nolan said. She has to prove that a person who shouldn’t own a gun does. That can be accomplished with a check of a database: people convicted of felonies, certain domestic violence misdemeanors, or an abuse prevention restraining order are all prohibited.

Federal-state communication

But for Nolan to bring a federal charge in a domestic violence case, they need their state partners to bring cases like Bedell’s to her attention.

“We need to do a better job of educating our state partners on exactly what kind of convictions and restraining orders they need to secure to be able to bring that charge,” Nolan said.

She’s been sending members of a task force around the state to talk to local police and prosecutors about what kind of cases to refer to her office.

“My concern is that we’re maximizing our presence in these cases and not missing them,” she said.

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