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After Pueblo mother murdered by ex-boyfriend, bill to educate judges on domestic violence passes

DENVER, Colo. (KRDO) – More than a year after a Pueblo mother was murdered while shopping, the pleas from her friends and family for change have finally been heard. A new bill aims to educate judges across the state on domestic violence.

If passed, HB23-1108 would create a task force that consists of "members who have experience representing victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other crimes; lived experience as a victim or survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other crimes; or are members of the judicial community," according to the bill text.

Educating judges on the needs of domestic violence is what friends of Renee Dominguez have been asking for. In the months leading up to Renee's murder, her ex-boyfriend, Jerome Bustos, had multiple open domestic violence cases in Pueblo, Rio Blanco, and Moffat counties. Despite those cases, Bustos was still able to be continually released from jail on low-cash bonds after new cases were opened.

"She broke down in court many times, you know because she was terrified of him. Terrified of him," Renee's friend Sandra Pluskett said.

While Renee took the steps to obtain civil and criminal protection orders in place against him, an apparent lack of communication between county judges on accessing the risk associated with a habitual domestic violence offender led to him being released back into the community.

"She felt humiliated. She felt exposed. She felt like she was the one that was doing the wrong. She felt like there was nobody there that was there to protect her," Pluskett said.

13 Investigates uncovered that continual missteps in the judicial system led to the Pueblo mother being gunned down. Pueblo Police said Bustos shot and killed Renee on January 14, 2022, inside Dollar General in East Pueblo. Before police could catch him, Bustos died by suicide hours later, allowing him to avoid prosecution on all of his remaining criminal cases.

Not only was Bustos able to travel from county to county and escape prosecution on low-level misdemeanor domestic violence cases, but Renee's friends also said the signs of an increase in his stalking her in the weeks before her murder fell on deaf ears by the county court and district judges across the state.

"She had a feeling for months, for weeks she's been telling us all, 'I'm going to die. He's going to kill me.' I could feel it," Pluskett said. "We'd be driving her home. We'd be outside of the clinic and be like, 'He's here. He's somewhere. We can feel him.'"

If Governor Jared Polis signs the bill into law, the task force would be required to meet at least four times annually to discuss ways to improve the way domestic violence victims are heard in our criminal justice system, including exploring ways to reduce the re-victimization of victims.

"I think that the judicial system is corrupt. I feel like they don't take things seriously. They need to have degrees of domestic violence charges. They need to have, 'Okay, this is serious.' He is really after her and harassing her. This is more important than just catching him, breaking the restraining order," Pluskett said last year.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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