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25th anniversary of a lesson too dearly learned

It was a tragedy that sent a shiver through spousal-abuse victims everywhere.

On March 4, 1989, 38-year-old Alan Matheney, serving a prison term for battery and confinement of his ex-wife, was given an eight-hour furlough from Pendleton Correctional Facility, ostensibly to visit his mother in nearby Indianapolis.

Instead, Matheney headed directly for Mishawaka, took a shotgun from a friend’s house and went to the home of his ex-wife, 29-year-old Lisa Marie Bianco. In front of their horrified daughters, he chased Bianco from her home and beat her to death with the shotgun as she pounded for help on a neighbor’s door.

As the story unfolded, it became clear that this was a tragedy that should have been prevented. Bianco had been beaten and threatened by Matheney repeatedly before he was sent to Pendleton. Each time he was arrested, he had bonded out and returned to attack her again. Bianco successfully opposed one proposed prison furlough and begged prison officials to let her know if they were considering releasing him again. But no one warned her.

The 25th anniversary of Bianco’s death was marked by a ceremony at the Family Justice Center in South Bend.

Her death led to a series of statewide reforms designed to prevent similar occurrences. Indiana now has a notification system to alert victims if their attacker is released from prison or moved to another facility.

More broadly, her death pointed up the need for special care when dealing with domestic abusers and their victims. It has nothing to do with presumption of innocence. Those who have the courage to ask for help in a violent domestic situation must know that authorities will protect them.

“That is the only thing that we can take away from what is otherwise a horrible event,” Millie Bianco, the victim’s mother, told the South Bend Tribune. “It called attention to the situation.”

A quarter of a century ago, it was a vital lesson Indiana learned far too painfully. May we never forget.