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The shocking murder of a Libby woman last week has left a stunned community asking questions about domestic violence and its impacts on individuals, families, and communities.
Libby, Montana, is a very typical small American town. Nestled inside more than 2 million acres of national forest, Libby appears to be just another quiet, peaceful town. That appearance was shattered by the brutal murder of Sheena Devine last week.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s dispatch received a call requesting medical assistance at approximately 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 6. The caller reported the victim, later identified as 30-year-old Sheena Devine, had likely been assaulted sometime during the previous night. A Libby Volunteer Ambulance crew and officers from the Libby Police Department responded to the call and quickly determined the victim was deceased.
Later that day, during the course of a joint investigation between the Libby Police, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, and the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation, 42-year-old Libby resident Trevor Mercier was identified as a person of interest. Law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant and executed it at Mercier’s Libby apartment. A source within the Sheriff’s Office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the officers broke the apartment window and incapacitated Mercier using a flash bang grenade. Neither Mercier nor any officers were injured during the operation.
Following the search of both Devine’s and Mercier’s residences, the Lincoln County Attorney charged Mercier with deliberate homicide in the matter. Devine’s body has been transported to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula for autopsy, so the actual cause of death remains under investigation at this time. Investigators were, however, able to determine the manner of death to be homicide.
Mercier was arrested in Libby Feb. 7, 2016, following an altercation reported at Devine’s address. Officer Scott Kessel of the Libby Police Department was dispatched to the scene and arrested Mercier for partner family member assault and disorderly conduct.
“I was dispatched to a reported disturbance at 404B W. 3rd St.,” Kessel wrote in his narrative of the incident. “I made contact with subject later identified as Trevor Mercier. Mercier said he had been in a fight with his girlfriend Sheena Devine. I asked Mercier for his name at which time he told me to “quite [expletive deleted] interrogating him. I asked him to keep his voice down and refrain from using profanity (we were outside the parking area of an apartment duplex in a residential neighborhood) or he would be arrested. Mercier yelled at me ‘[expletive] you, go [expletive] yourself’ several times. Mercier was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.
“Devine (5’3” tall, 130 lbs.) reported that she and Mercier (5’9”, 225 lbs.) were arguing, he threw her to the floor, began to choke her and slam her head against the floor. Devine stated she scratched and punched at him to get away. Devine ran to the next door apartment and asked the neighbor to call the police. Devine had scratches to her forehead, the left side of her neck, and visible finger impressions on the right side of her neck. Mercier had scratches near both eyes and the left side of his neck. Mercier was also placed under arrest for partner or family member assault.”
Mercier was released from the Lincoln County jail four days later, on his own recognizance. As one of the conditions of his release he was ordered to report for a partner or family member assault assessment. A no contact order with the victim was also imposed by the court. He was scheduled for a non-jury trial in city court for Aug. 18, 2016.
Mercier obtained an assessment from Peter Volkmann, LCPC, of Kootenai Counseling. After meeting with Mercier twice between the time of his arrest and March 14, 2016, Volkmann recommended the no contact order between the two be canceled, according to documents obtained from the court.
“I have interviewed Mr. Mercier (2x) for 2 ½ hours and interviewed Ms. Sheena Devine for ¾ of an hour,” Volkmann wrote in a report to Libby City Judge Lucille Briggs. “I have reviewed the police report of the incident for which Mr. Mercier was charged with PFMA and disorderly conduct which also resulted in a no contact order being imposed. I am of the opinion that it would be safe to cancel the no contact order.”
Judge Briggs rescinded the no contact order March 18, 2016.
The trial took place as scheduled Aug. 18, 2016, despite Mercier’s failure to appear. He was convicted on both misdemeanor counts in absentia. Briggs sentenced him to 10 days in jail for the disorderly conduct and a concurrent sentence of 180 days for the partner family member assault. She also issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear at the trial.
The final sentencing order, signed by Briggs Aug. 29, 2016, gave Mercier credit for five days pretrial incarceration and suspended the remaining five days on the disorderly conduct charge, as well as the entire sentence for the assault conviction.
Mercier was arrested again on Aug. 20, but made bail the same day. He filed an appeal of the conviction in 19th Judicial District Court Sept. 2, 2016, also requesting the conviction and sentence be stayed pending the outcome of the appeal. Judge Briggs signed the stay order Sept. 2, 2016.
The anger and violence, however, were not included in the stay.
At 9:42 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, Lincoln County Sheriff’s dispatch received a call from one of Devine’s neighbors who reported an individual throwing rocks at a car. Libby Police and sheriff’s deputies responded, but the alleged perpetrator had left prior to their arrival at the scene. Sources close to the investigation confirmed Mercier was suspected in the incident.
“This doesn’t just affect the victim and the families involved, it affects the neighbors and the whole community,” Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe told The Montanian Saturday morning. “This hits home with how serious domestic violence is. It stresses how important it is to investigate and document these crimes. People often don’t realize the seriousness of domestic violence. People don’t realize how quickly these situations can escalate into deadly violence.”
The shocking murder of Sheena Devine, Lincoln County’s only murder thus far in 2016, has neighbors and the community at large in a state of shock. Some are questioning the ability of the judicial system to appropriately deal with the culture of domestic violence in Lincoln County.
One of Devine’s neighbors, speaking on condition of anonymity, recounted her feelings when she learned of the murder.
“When my boyfriend told me there were cops and a bunch of vehicles outside at first I just thought it was a drug bust,” she said. “Honestly, that’s what came to mind. Then he left to do chores at his dad’s house and I began hearing rumors of a murder at an apartment building. I looked out my window again and saw the police tape around her door. Bam, it hit me. I saw the sheriff parked in the alleyway, it blew my mind. It took me back to 1987 when a little boy named Ryan was murdered here. I know there have been other murders in this small town, but it seems these two are sticking in my mind.”
As more details came to light about the situation, she started having concerns about the victim’s violent past with the accused.
“It’s sad more wasn’t done about the domestic situation,” she said. “Do restraining orders even work? I keep asking myself ‘why?’ Could anything have been done to prevent this?”
Bowe said it is important for people who are victims of or witnesses to domestic assault to report the incident to the proper authorities.
“We have one of the highest domestic violence rates in the state,” he said. “But the law requires us to make an arrest when called out, unless we can prove violence didn’t happen. We have to presume violence exists until proven otherwise.”
But even with that presumption, cases such as the murder of Sheena Devine cause people to question the ability of the legal system to adequately address the issue. When asked if her faith in the system was shaken by what happened in Libby Thursday morning, the anonymous neighbor replied simply, “Yes. It is. Very much so.”
– This piece was originally published by American News X Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.