‘It fell between the cracks.’ Criminal justice expert weighs in on Julie Minogue murder, internal police probe
A nationally known criminal justice expert spoke with News 12 about the murder of a Milford woman and the ongoing questions about if police and the court system could’ve prevented it. Chief Keith Mello announced an officer is now on leave while internal affairs investigates how he handled a complaint by Julie Minogue before death.
“We don’t know all the facts about what happened in Milford, but what is clear is it fell between the cracks,” said Mike Lawlor, a former prosecutor, state legislator, chair of the judiciary committee and criminal justice advisor to Gov. Dannel Malloy. Lawlor now teaches at UNH and is on the New Haven Board of Police Commissioners and the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council. “You have prosecutors and police, and obviously somebody dropped the ball.”
On Dec. 6, Ewen Dewitt allegedly used an ax to murder his ex-girlfriend, Julie Minogue, inside her condo on Salem Walk while her two youngest kids were home.
Just three weeks before, on Nov. 14., Minogue went to police to report Dewitt had violated a protective order by sending her 220 text messages, including threats, in a two-day period. The protective order had been issued in connection to a pending 2019 domestic violence case from 2019 where Dewitt allegedly threw a playpen at her while drunk. Minogue was holding their baby at the time and suffered a wound to her head that needed five staples, according to court documents.
On Nov. 18, the officer assigned to Minogue’s complaint completed an arrest warrant application for Dewitt on a charge of violation of a protective order. Police said it was reviewed by a supervisor who deemed the application contained the requisite probable cause to get it signed.
“It’s a very low threshold. It’s less than you’d have to prove in a lawsuit about a car accident. It’s much less than you’d have to prove to convict somebody of a crime,” Lawlor explained. “I think many prosecutors feel they really want to have a very strong case, not just probable cause, but more than that, and so it is not unusual for prosecutors to send the warrant application back.”
Lawlor also noted that while it is customary for prosecutors to ask for more detail, it doesn’t have to be done at that stage. “After an arrest is made, prosecutors can get more information as they get ready to potentially try a case.”
On Nov. 21, the officer submitted the initial Dewitt warrant to the Ansonia/Milford State’s Attorney’s Office where State’s Attorney Margaret E. Kelley said it was reviewed by a prosecutor and returned to police that day with a request for more information. But the warrant wasn't resubmitted until Dec. 13, a week after Minogue's murder. That's led to the current police probe to determine why. In a statement on the investigation, Chief Mello said the officer “had an obligation to gather that information requested by the Assistant State’s Attorney and resubmit the arrest warrant as soon as possible.”
News 12 reached out to the Ansonia/Milford State’s Attorney Office and the Connecticut Department of Criminal Justice multiple times asking what information was missing from the initial warrant. A spokesperson for the Department of Criminal Justice said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on pending criminal cases.
Lawlor said what happened raised questions about safeguards and oversight needed in the warrant process.
“Is it required when a warrant comes back from a prosecutor seeking more detail, is there someone other than the individual officer who should be checking up on this? Should the prosecutor reach out after 24 hours?” he asked.
Lawlor said he hopes a lesson from this tragedy is the wider understanding that domestic violence cases, unlike many other crimes, are often about imminent danger.
“In Connecticut, the good news is all police officers are trained on doing these lethality assessment forms. It’s a standard questionnaire. Whenever they’re talking to an apparent victim of family violence, they ask a bunch of questions. Does the person have access to a firearm? Have they threatened to kill you in the past? There’s a numerical score that is developed, and it gives a sense of if this is a very risky family violence situation. And then presumably the police and other court officials will make a priority out of this case.”
It's not known if that was done with Minogue.
Lawlor told News 12 that in Connecticut, the second largest category of homicides, behind gang- and group-involved shootings, is family violence.
“There are red flags that become apparent to a trained eye, and police and victims’ advocates and prosecutors presumably are trained to recognize these warning signs,” Lawlor said. “The goal of this system is when these signs are clear, you need to really prioritize the situation because someone’s life potentially is in danger.”
He said the Minogue case is a clear illustration on how complicated the criminal justice system is with all the different moving parts—police, prosecutors, victims’ advocates, corrections officers, probation, and parole officials who supervise defendants when they’re out of custody—and the need for all these parts to be more coordinated.
“There’s a lot of questions here, and I think it’s important not to point fingers or blame. It’s more important to find out how this happened and what changes can ensure this does not happen again.”
Ewen Dewitt was served the new warrant on Dec. 14. He’s now charged with harassment and violation of a protective order. That’s on top of the charges in the murder case, which also include home invasion, violation of a protective order, violation of a restraining order and risk of injury to a minor. Dewitt is being held on a total of $6.5 million bond. He returns to court on those charges Feb. 3.
Dewitt’s previous domestic violence case is on the docket for Jan. 4. He is also facing an assault charge out of North Carolina from last year.