As the six-month anniversary of the murder-suicide of Kimberly Baucom by her estranged husband, Kevin Conover, approaches, community members and law enforcement officials involved in the case are looking at ways to ensure such violence doesn't happen again. But many acknowledge that preventing such tragedies remains a difficult challenge.
In an effort to learn from what happened and assess steps that could be taken to prevent future deaths or injuries, the Sonoma County District Attorney's office will host a "domestic violence death review" inquiry in the coming weeks. The meeting is required by law to review deaths in the county caused by domestic violence and make policy recommendations for the future, aimed at curbing such incidents.
"The purpose is to work collaboratively to promote the safety of domestic violence victims, monitor existing services and responses, and promote programs to reduce domestic violence," said Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook. She added that the meeting is closed to the public and that findings are confidential unless the team wishes to disclose policy recommendations.
Paul Gilman, lead investigating police detective on the Baucom-Conover case, said that the Petaluma Police Department will participate in the meeting. "If there are issues with the way we've done anything, we want to learn," Gilman said emphatically. "If we were to sit back and say we handled this one perfectly, then we're not being honest with ourselves. We need to be ready to go in and be open to a lot of constructive criticism so we can learn from our mistakes."
But, like many domestic violence murders, whether the crime could have been prevented by police or the court system is unclear. Court documents show that Baucom had applied for a temporary restraining order in March and an emergency protection order — or EPO — after an altercation with Conover outside their Searles Way home, jut nine days before her murder in April. EPOs are requested by police officers on behalf of domestic violence victims and are issued at a judge's discretion. Judge Virginia Marcoida denied the EPO request on Monday, April 9, citing insufficient evidence.
According to Baucom's sister, Lori Burleson, on April 13, several days after the EPO request was denied, Conover showed up at Meadow Elementary School, where Baucom was a teacher, and stood outside Baucom's classroom window. Baucom, recognizing her responsibility to her students, decided to apply for a restraining order. On April 15, Baucom was shot and killed by Conover as she left her divorce attorney's office, right after having filed for the restraining order against her husband. Conover then shot and killed himself on the sidewalk on Keller Street.
The murder-suicide shocked Petaluma. Baucom, a Petaluma High School graduate like her husband, was beloved by her students and their families, and left two teenage daughters from a previous marriage and twin 21-month-old children she had with Conover. But as details emerged about the relationship between Baucom and Conover, a familiar pattern of abuse came to light, highlighting the difficulties inherent to preventing domestic violence.
Baucom's relationship with Conover was relatively short, lasting just over two years. According to Burleson, Baucom had become pregnant with the twins shortly after meeting Conover.
"We were very sheltered growing up," said Burleson, who remembers spending her childhood on their parents' farm in Petaluma with Baucom and their brother, Jason, who was killed in a drunk driving accident in 1997. "Our parents were very happy and our childhood was so idyllic that I don't think Kim realized how bad the relationship was until she was too far into it."
Burleson said that the relationship between her sister and Conover had concerned family members from the start, with Conover using the death of their brother to insert himself into Kim's life by pretending he had been a close friend to her brother, something Burleson said was not true.