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Victim of Logan murder-suicide a long-time advocate for domestic, sexual violence survivors

Attorney Mary Palley (middle) at ribbon cutting for transitional housing in Logan owned and operated by the organization Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse.  Palley, who died in a murder-suicide this past week, was a long-time advocate for survivo
Attorney Mary Palley (middle) at ribbon cutting for transitional housing in Logan owned and operated by the organization Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse. Palley, who died in a murder-suicide this past week, was a long-time advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and served 26 years on the CAPSA's board of directors. She was photographed with Scott Stettler, CAPSA board president and Jill Anderson, CAPSA's executive director.
Courtesy photo

LOGAN — For decades, Mary Palley worked in service of survivors of domestic and sexual violence, both as an attorney who helped people obtain protective orders and a long-time board member of the nonprofit organization Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse.

On Friday, Palley and her husband Dell Andrew Johnson, 82, were found dead inside their Logan home from an apparent murder-suicide. Investigators believe Johnson shot and killed his wife and then killed himself.

Palley "offered her time and energy freely" to working on behalf of victims and supporting CAPSA's direct service and advocacy efforts, according to a statement from the Logan organization released Saturday.

"Mary worked with CAPSA to develop and fund transitional housing, dedicated in name to her grandchildren, to ensure survivors and their children have access to safety and supportive services," the statement said.

Palley, 73, served on the organization's board of directors for 26 years.

"As an attorney, Mary provided countless hours of free legal advocacy to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, working selflessly to promote safety as she helped survivors navigate the court process and obtain protective orders," the statement said.

Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said Palley's death was "terrible loss. It's the worst outcome and evidence it (domestic violence) takes place across a lifespan and across the socio-economic spectrum and we need to do more."

Murder-suicide is a form of domestic violence or intimate partner violence. Free, confidential help is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-897-LINK (5465).

Domestic violence-related homicides account for at least 42 percent of all adult homicides in Utah and more than a third of Utah women who experience intimate partner violence are age 55 and up, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

"We're seeing a concerning trend with the Utah Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee where these are not isolated cases. We're starting to see a number of cases of abuse in later life in intimate partnerships that end up homicide-suicide cases," Oxborrow said.

The state coalition received a Department of Justice "Abuse in Later Life" grant in 2015, she said. The funding is being used to pilot a program in central Utah, "where we have high rates of abuse in later life, especially in intimate partnerships."

Murder-suicide among seniors is often the outcome of abuse that has spanned decades. However, Oxborrow said she did not know Palley personally and did not know what drove her passion in working with survivors of violence.

"The thing that's interesting about Mary's situation is she was a very accomplished attorney. She had set up an endowment for scholarships for women who wanted to return to college. She had a very vibrant private practice so she had a lot of opportunity and advantage that many, many women her age don't have that often make it more difficult to leave," she said.

Domestic violence in older couples presents some unique challenges, particularly if abuse has occurred over decades, Oxborrow said.

"Generationally, there are higher degrees of patriarchy. It can be difficult to speak up at any point in a marriage, but especially when it's been normalized and you've put on a good face for 40 or 50 years," she said.

Neighbors described Palley and Johnson as "gracious" and "kind. Neighbor Julie Jones said she was stunned to learn about their deaths.

Police made a welfare check at their home after the Logan Herald Journal received a handwritten letter from Johnson that raised enough concern that the newspaper contacted police Friday morning. Upon entering the home, officers found the couple dead from gunshot wounds, police said. A possible motive has not been revealed.

Palley and Johnson had been active in Democratic Party politics in Cache County. Johnson had been engineer and businessman who worked at Thiokol, now named Orbital ATK, and had been a member of the Sunshine Terrace Foundation Board, according to the Logan Herald Journal.

Oxborrow said members of CAPSA's staff and board of directors were deeply saddened by the news.

"She was a dear friend to CAPSA for many years and we will miss her greatly," the organization's statement said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com