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updated: 4/1/2012 6:32 AM

Huntley case shows need for harsher penalties for domestic abuse

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  • Michelle Mathieu

      Michelle Mathieu

  • Robert Signorile

      Robert Signorile


What makes a woman stay with a man who has a history of beating her?

Huntley Police Chief John Perkins, whose department sees its share of domestic violence cases, believes two things are at play: the woman hopes the situation gets better, and believes, in her abused state, that life won't be as good without that man in her life.

While that's true, says the director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the court system doesn't do enough to penalize abusers and deter them from repeating their behavior.

On March 24, Michelle Mathieu, 52, of Huntley, died from injuries, police say, she received six days earlier at the hands of Robert Signorile, her longtime live-in boyfriend. Signorile, 43, has been charged with first-degree murder and remains behind bars with bail set at $2 million.

Police say "exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty" accompanied the beating.

"Remember, these are victims and, ... in my opinion, their judgment is broken down," Perkins said, stressing that he does not blame Mathieu for what happened.

Signorile has a history of domestic violence.

About a week after they moved to Huntley last August, Signorile was arrested on two counts of domestic battery for repeatedly punching Mathieu and dragging her by the hair in their home.

The police report says she locked herself in the bedroom for three days because he wouldn't stop hitting her.

The case prompted police to visit Mathieu in the days after Signorile's arrest to explain the options available to her, which included counseling and assistance in filing for an order of protection.

Court records show Signorile pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery last October and he was sentenced to one year under court supervision and a $263 fine and ordered to attend anger management counseling.

Signorile was enrolled in the partner abuse intervention program at the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services in Addison and was expected to complete his course by September, said McHenry County First Assistant State's Attorney Norm Vinton.

Neighbors said Signorile, who was a carpenter by trade, moved out of their house for several months after his arrest, but had worked his way back in by January. They also said the pair kept to themselves and usually left their windows and blinds closed.

Officials say Mathieu and Signorile lived together for seven years, first in Carol Stream, then in unincorporated DuPage County near Lombard and finally in Huntley. A June police report from Lombard shows Mathieu moved out of the house they shared and into a hotel. But the two reunited and moved together to Huntley last August. Police said she did not file for an order of protection in either DuPage or McHenry County.

Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that while she hasn't met Mathieu she believes Mathieu did what she could to escape the relationship, given the resources available to her.

Because Mathieu didn't work and didn't associate with her neighbors she didn't have a support system that validated her worth, Smith said. Court records show Mathieu -- as well as Signorile -- also had a history of financial problems, which may have contributed to why she stayed in the relationship, Smith said.

Mathieu's age might have been another factor, because at 52, she may have believed she wouldn't find another partner, Smith said. And, of course, love may have played a role, she added.

"Caring about that other person is a major factor and the abuse probably isn't going on all the time, so there are windows of who that person could be, if they chose to be that way all the time," Smith said. "It is a really effective hook and keeps women hoping 'he's going to turn the corner somehow.'"

In Illinois, domestic battery is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. Signorile, who had no criminal record beyond these cases, should have faced stronger penalties than the fine and anger management training he eventually got in his plea deal, Smith said.

"There's just not enough consistent and significant penalties applied to send a very clear message that this is not OK and it's going to cost you a lot to continue this behavior," Smith said.

Mathieu's funeral services were held Friday in her hometown of Milwaukee.

Michael Mathieu Duran, 24, Mathieu's only child, declined to talk about his mother beyond a family statement.

"We ask that at this time, you respect the privacy of the family during this painful grieving period," Duran said. "We have lost our sister, mother and friend and need time to heal. We are confident that the authorities are handling this case in the best way possible on behalf of our family. We are also confident that justice will be served."

Penalties: Son says he's confident justice will be served

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