After Watching Their Dad Kill Their Mom, Jennifer Magnano's Kids Fight for Law to Expand Definition of Abuse
Jennifer Magnano was killed by her husband, Scott Magnano, in 2007 after years of abuse. Her children are now telling her story and fighting for Jennifer's Law to be passed in her name.
His vision went black when he heard the gunshots, and as 15-year-old David Magnano came to on the steps of his childhood home in Terryville, Connecticut, he saw his mother lying at the bottom of them. She was gone. His mother, Jennifer Magnano, 42, had just been shot dead by his father, Scott Magnano. It was the end to years of abuse that Jennifer and her three children—Jessica, David and Emily — thought they were on the verge of escaping.
“I just remember, like, a black void,” David Magnano told Inside Edition Digital. “I don't remember any of the shots after the first one.”
Just four months earlier, on April 14, 2007, Jennifer had finally gotten the courage to flee Scott. On that day, Scott had become enraged because his mother’s microwave was not working. His mother lived in a separate downstairs apartment in the family’s home. It was not unusual for Scott to become extremely angered over inconsequential things, according to his children.
“He was talking about how he could go downstairs and kill his mother right then and not feel any remorse,” said Jessica Rosenbeck, Jennifer’s eldest child from another relationship. “He was just yelling and screaming.”
Jessica, who was 21 at the time, said Scott came into the playroom where she, Emily, who was 9, and David could be found most days, and told them that he didn’t want to hear any “f****** noise” and then slapped Jessica. It was this tirade of abuse that made Jennifer take the kids and run, something she had been wanting to do for months.
“I remember my mom coming into the doorway and whispering to us, ‘We're leaving tonight.’” Emily Thibeault said.
After the decision was made, the kids and Jennifer began secretly gathering belongings in trash bags, carefully staying out of Scott’s sight. They knew that he would be taking a long shower later that night, as he did religiously, and that would be their chance to flee.
“I just remember knowing that we were leaving, and waiting all day and trying to pretend like I was playing or that everything was normal,” Emily said. “Once he got in the shower and had been there for long enough, I remember it was time. We grabbed everything and got into the van, and it was so terrifying.”
Jennifer and her three children piled everything into the family van before putting the car in neutral and rolling silently down the driveway.
“[My mom’s] friend had been driving laps up and down the street and met us at the intersection down the street,” David said. “We drove in one direction to ditch the van and then got in her van, and ended up at crusty old Motel 6.”
How Scott’s Abuse of Jennifer Magnano Began
Jennifer married Scott in November 1992. At the time. Jessica, who was 6 years old, said she remembered Scott being “really mean” to her. By the time Jennifer and Scott’s first child together, David, was born in 1992, Scott was already verbally abusive, Jessica said. Scott threatened to kill Jennifer if she ever left with David.
The family built their home in Terryville in the mid ‘90s, and by the time Emily was born in 1998, the physical violence had started.
“I know, from having been told, that the first physical thing was that he expressed dissatisfaction with the marriage and my mom said, ‘Well, when the kids graduate, then we'll just get a divorce,’” David said. “And he took her into the bedroom and strangled her, and she thought that that she was going to die”
After that, David, who is now 29, said he remembers the physical abuse was relatively consistent, though increasing in frequency over time. Scott also sexually abused Jessica for three years, starting when she was 18, she said.
“I think the first time he was snuggling in bed with Emily. And I came in and he wanted me to get in the bed too. He always called it snuggling. And then after that he only wanted it to be me,” Jessica said. “And he would just be wearing his underwear, and it was very uncomfortable. It was just a lot of inappropriate touching, inappropriate conversations.”
Jessica, who is now 34, said the sexual abuse put a huge strain on her and her mom’s relationship.
“He would send my mom to get me,” Jessica said. “I'd be in bed, the bottom bunk in the room I shared with David. And he would send her in to get me. And that's cruel, to her, to me, because now I'm mad at her. And I'm like, ‘Mom, I don't want to go in there.’ And she's like, ‘I know.’"
But it wasn’t only the physical abuse and sexual abuse that was a problem. Scott was extremely controlling, not just of Jennifer, but of the children as well. It’s a tactic that is common for abusers.
“Growing up in the house in Terryville was an interesting experience. To me, [it] represents the classic ‘things aren't always what they appear,’ because we lived in a big, beautiful house that my mom and Scott built, but inside, it was hell,” Jessica said. “It was prison. We felt like we were walking on eggshells all the time.”
Life Under the Thumb of An Abuser
The children described that there were a plethora of rules—from how to wash your hands, to how to walk through a room, to how to place dishes in the kitchen. They spent endless days in their playroom with the door closed and could only come out for meal time, they said.
“We couldn't just come out to go to the bathroom. We couldn't come out for a snack,” Jessica said. “We didn't get to see our mom that much. She always had to be in the kitchen at Scott's beck and call, just ready to just do his bidding.”
Emily said she remembers that everything she did had to be watched.
“I always had to have my hair in braids because my dad thought my hair would get stuck in the doors of the bus because it was so long,” she said. “And I couldn't cut my bangs to the length that I wanted. He had to make sure it was the length that he wanted to be able to see my face. I couldn't get my ears pierced. I had to shower with someone.”
Actions like these are what is recognized today as coercive control. Laura Richards is a criminal behavioral analyst working to pass laws throughout the country and abroad to recognize coercive control as a type of abuse.
“Coercive Control is a behavioral regime, a strategic pattern of behavior that is used to control, to entrap, to dominate, to subjugate, primarily women,” Richards told Inside Edition Digital. “And it's normally when rules and regulations are laid down gradually over time. And if those rules are broken, there's a fear of consequence, but the rules are really there to exact obedience.”
And as common as these experiences are, with approximately one in three women and one in two men having experienced coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it’s imperative that people are able to recognize what it looks like.
Richards said examples of the behavior can look like—an individual setting rules about who you can see and where you can see them, what you can wear, what food you can eat, and controlling another’s finances, among other things.
“Every little behavior is micromanaged,” Richards said. "And the victim really has to meet the needs of the abuser and they spend all their time trying to meet those needs and trying to make sure they keep to those rules.”
It’s this behavior that Jennifer was trying to escape when she left Scott before her eventual murder, but unfortunately as the mom of three reached out for help, she was met with obstacles, including an inability on the court’s part to recognize Scott’s behavior as abuse and a failing on the police’s part to take swift actions to protect the family.
The Plymouth Police Department did not respond to Inside Edition Digital’s request for comment.
How the System Failed Jennifer Magnano
After Jennifer fled with her three children, they stayed in a hotel in Connecticut as she worked to get a shelter in the state to take all three of them. Scott had reported them missing to the Plymouth Police Department on April 15, 2007, the day after they left, and said he believed they left the state. By April 16, a missing persons report had been filed for the family.
The same week, both Randy Rosenbeck, Jessica’s father, and Robert Gauthier, Jennifer’s father, contacted police. Rosenbeck told police that he believed Scott had assaulted his daughter. Gauthier told police that Scott was a “violent and controlling person and would not allow Jennifer to have credit cards.” Gauthier explained he was afraid that the children and Jennifer had been harmed.
Jennifer was unable to find a shelter in the state that would take the entire family because Jessica was an adult and David was a male. She did find a shelter in Van Nuys, California, that was willing to take them, and Jennifer made the decision to leave the state with her kids. Before she left, though, Jennifer met with a Plymouth police officer and told the officer about the history of Scott’s abuse, as well as the sexual abuse of Jessica. Jennifer also told the officer that she believed Scott was going to kill her and Jessica, as he had threatened to do so several times.
Then Jennifer and her children left on a cross-country train heading to California. In California, Jennifer and Jessica obtained restraining orders against Scott through the Los Angeles Police Department. Jennifer also documented the abuse with the department. Before the end of April, Scott had gone to court to file for custody of David and Emily, something Jennifer was not aware of at the time.
Emily describes being away from Scott for the first time in California as the “best time of her life.”
“Even though that was when I [was] the most poor in my whole life. I was so happy because we could do things without having to fear what the consequences were," Emily said. “We could walk around, we could spend time with our mom and she was happier. [I] was just experiencing so many things for the first time.”
By June, Jennifer had faxed copies of her restraining order against Scott to the Plymouth police. She wanted the police to charge Scott with abuse. The Los Angeles Police Department had also faxed Jennifer’s reports to the Plymouth police. On June 4, 2007, Scott was awarded custody of David and Emily without Jennifer’s knowledge. Scott told the court that she was served at their home in Connecticut, but she hadn’t been there in months.
Scott had also been taking out credit cards and cash advances in Jennifer’s name, racking up debt upwards of $80,000 in her name during the time she was in California.
“I remember my mom just being so defeated, and so sad, and so stressed, but she was still on the phone all the time,” Jessica said. “I remember her sitting in one of the offices of the shelter, and she was calling all the banks, all the credit cards she got. We have surveillance pictures of Scott at the banks. She got almost all of it back. I can't remember what the final amount got down to, but it was nice to see her do that.”
On June 23, 2007, after finding out that Scott had obtained custody of her two youngest children, Jennifer took the kids back to Connecticut. She was in fear for her life.
“I know she cried. I think we all cried. I think we were all scared, but we had to,” Jessica said. “We didn't have a choice because otherwise, they would be like, my mom kidnapped the kids.”
After returning to Connecticut, Jennifer met with Plymouth police again and laid out all of the abuse she and her children endured to police for a second time. She also reported all of the money Scott had stolen from her. As she laid out what she and her family suffered at the hands of Scott, she and the children stayed with different friends and family, taking care to avoid the home they shared with Scott in an attempt to avoid any contact with him.
In July, a civil restraining order was granted that required Scott to stay 100 yards away from Jennifer and the children, but the police weren’t notified because the order was issued in family court. The order also required Scott to leave the family home. He did not.
In the beginning of August, Jennifer called the Plymouth police to notify them that Scott had not left the residence and they informed her that it was a civil matter and they couldn’t do anything, according to a report carried out by the Connecticut Office of the Victim Advocate. It had been four months since Jennifer had initially reported her abuse to Plymouth police.
The day before Jennifer was murdered, on Aug. 22, 2007, a warrant for the sexual abuse of Jessica was finally issued for Scott. Two other warrants for theft and forgery as well as domestic violence were also pending.
Michelle Cruz, an attorney and the previous State Victim Advocate of the State of Connecticut, said those two warrants had been held up by a back-and-forth in the courts.If Scott had been arrested, Jennifer may have survived.
“The warrant for the assault and the disorderly charges against Scott, originally when it came in, [it] was very lengthy and the prosecutor asked them to shorten it,” Cruz told Inside Edition Digital. "And then that one was denied because the prosecutor mistook her leaving and her accusations for trying to manipulate a divorce, which wasn't even filed at that time. And then the warrant for the sexual assault was granted, but it was granted the day before she was murdered.”
Jennifer Magnano’s Murder
Before her mother’s murder, Jessica had flown back to California because Jennifer planned to move there with the kids and start over. On Aug. 22, 2007, Jennifer took Emily and David to clean and retrieve items from the family’s old home. It was the first time they had been back since they initially fled. Jennifer first called Plymouth police to check the house because she was afraid that Scott may be hiding inside.
Authorities checked the house and said Scott was not inside. His mother, however, refused to let police check her apartment and said they would need a warrant to go inside, according to a report published by Connecticut’s Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA) after Jennifer’s death. When Jennifer and the children left that night, she left the lights on.
“The next day, the 23rd, when she came back to the house that night, the curtains were closed and the light was off, “ Cruz said.
Jennifer called the police a second time to come search the house, but Scott’s mother again would not allow them to check her apartment. David, who had been at a nearby friend’s house, returned home because his mom said they were getting ready to leave.
“We walked back up the front steps and I walked up the stairs into the living room kitchen and I turned around and I saw a gun. At first, I thought it was a joke,” David said. “The look that [Scott] always had in his eye when he was about to be violent, when he was about to hit her, when he was about to threaten us, he had that look in his eye and I knew it was serious.”
David said Scott grabbed his mother and dragged her into the kitchen as she pleaded with him to not do this “in front of the kids." David said he tried to run to the phone to call 911, but he noticed a note next to it that said “phone disconnected.” It was then he tried to run after his parents.
“I started running down the stairs when I heard the shot,” David said. “I was told that he shot her five or six times. I only remember one, everything after that I went black and I've been told I saw it. I don't remember it. It makes sense that I saw it; I was at the stairs and they were 15, 20-feet away.”
Jennifer died instantly.
“I listened for a heartbeat and there was nothing, she was just gone,” David said.
Scott then drove away in the family’s van and shot himself.
Mary Lou Magnano, Scott’s mother, had come up from her apartment on Scott’s heels before the shooting and was there as well.
“Later, they did find that [Scott] had a baby monitor in his mother's apartment and the other part of the baby monitor was in the kitchen of the house, I believe,” Cruz said. “So he could hear what was going on in the house when he was in his mother's apartment. And so we believe that he was downstairs waiting for her.”
In the years since, Jessica, David and Emily grew up without their mother, or their father, who they refer to as Scott. They also grew up without each other. They were separated and lived with different family members as the years passed.
They reunited for the first time in years during the coronavirus pandemic. David bought a house in Massachusetts, where he lives with his long-time girlfriend. Emily, now 23, recently moved in with her brother in order to leave a verbally abusive relationship, one that she says reminded her so much of how Scott treated her mother.
She knew she had to get up the courage to leave and her siblings helped her move out. She’s now in therapy and working on processing her childhood trauma, which she said is helping her a great deal. She’s also in a healthy relationship now, and just got her first new car.
Jessica often drives up to see her siblings on the weekends. It’s a serene house that feels like home with no shortage of greenery and a lake out back.
“Living with [David] after the whole relationship and being in isolation and all that, has brought me so close to him and also close to my sister again,” Emily said. “I talk to her every day, pretty much. It's brought, to me, a sense of comfort. Not that they're my parents, but they're like the closest thing to my parents.”
Fighting for Jennifer’s Law
In honor of their mother’s life, Jessica, Emily and David participated in an upcoming animated documentary Jennifer, 42, which seeks to spread more awareness about how to protect women and children fleeing violent men. They've also fought to have a law passed in her name.
Jennifer's Law was passed on June 4, 2021, in honor of Jennifer Magnano and Jennifer Dulos, another Connecticut mother who was killed by her husband, Fotis Dulos, who later took his own life, in a case that made headlines.
In the wake of Jennifer Magnano’s 2007 death, a previous law named Jennifer’s Law was passed that would allow victims of domestic abuse to attend court hearings remotely and not have to come back to the state if they’ve left, so they are not putting themselves at risk. However, based on numerous accounts, the law was never acted upon as some didn’t know it existed.
Jennifer’s children are hoping this time, it’s different.
"What is a law if no one knows about it and it's not being used?" Emily said.
The new Jennifer’s Law expands the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control, so that individuals in the court system, especially in the family court system, can recognize what it looks like and realize that abuse isn’t always just physical. The law also allows a person who rents their home and obtains a restraining order to change their locks, and it gives victims who don't have the resources to leave a cash grant to be able to do so.
The law also adds "physical and emotional safety of the child" as the first factor for the judge to consider when determining custody.
According to the study, “Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations,” by Joan S. Meier, “data shows that courts are excessively skeptical of child physical and sexual abuse reports, are likely overly skeptical of domestic violence claims, and sometimes award custody to known abusers. Overall, mothers reporting abuse - particularly child abuse - are losing custody at high rates.”
Senator Alex Kasser drafted Jennifer’s Law, noting that Jennifer Dulos was one of her constituents. She said by not recognizing coercive control, it allows years of abuse to continue.
“Really, almost nothing has changed since Jennifer Magnano in 14 years,” Kasser told Inside Edition Digital. “So while it's called ‘Jennifers’ Law,’ plural, it's really intended to honor all of the women and children who have lost their lives, who've been harmed, who've been injured and the survivors who are still fighting for their freedom for the right to be left alone.”
Other coercive control bills have already been passed in California and Hawaii.
It’s a bittersweet mark of progress for Jennifer’s children though, who, regardless of the passage of such a law, are still left to go through life without their mother.
“This year it'll be 14 years. She's been gone longer than Emily had with her, and almost the same for David,” Jessica said. “It breaks my heart that I never got to see her be happy. I never got to see her be in a relationship where she was treated the way she deserved to have been treated or even just alone.
“There's just so many things in life that just would be so much better.”
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