Archive for category Justice

“The Murky World” of Jury Consultants

jury consultants, members of jury

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Reading  people is neither a science nor an innate gift. It is a matter of knowing what to look and listen for, having the curiosity and patience to gather the necessary information, and understanding how to recognize the patterns in a person’s appearance, body language, voice, and conduct”         …….Jo-Ellan Dimitrius  

Jury Consultation is one of those “behind the scenes professions” of which the general public is not always aware. It is controversial, can be seen as ineffective compared to other methods and only afforded to those who are wealthy.  If you’ve ever seen a passing mention of this profession on TV, it is always glamorized.  Even so, perhaps some basic features  and illustrative examples can make an otherwise dry topic “come alive” and help us to understand this murky world to some degree.

An Introduction from Audrey Cleary- Villanova University

  • Juries decide thousands of cases every year. Even though the majority of court cases are not settled by juries, predictions about juries influence decisions to pursue or avoid jury trials;
  • Therefore, the jury system maintains a central importance in American law. Given this importance, it is not surprising that the selection of jurors has, for many, become a scientifically-rooted service for which attorneys and litigants will often pay handsome fees.
  • Definition – Scientific Jury Selection:  is the application of behavioral and social scientific principles to the selection of jurors most sympathetic to a particular side in a court case.
  • It has experienced a growth spurt since its inception in the early 1970’s and received substantial publicity in the news media for its use by the defense in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial in 1995;
  • It is  a virtually unregulated field of endeavor;
  • Evidence from academia largely indicates that scientific jury selection does no good, yet the market for such services continues to flourish;
  • Traditional jury selection in most jurisdictions consists of three stages:

Creation of a list of citizens eligible for jury duty, followed by selection of a sample of those persons to be summoned to court. The third  stage is the process of voir dire where potential jurors are questioned either individually or in a group, sometimes by attorneys but often by the presiding judge.

At A Glance: History, Examples and Problems:

Scientific jury selection had its roots in the 1971 trial of Philip Berrrigan and six other anti-war activists of the infamous “Harrisburg Seven.” Among their charges, conspiring to destroy secret service records and kidnap former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger! Synopsis by Defense Attorney, Tom Menneker 

The Case of Joan Little – A Black Woman- Sexual Assault in Prison- Washington, North Carolina. The first two weeks of the trial were consumed by jury selection. Because it was a capital case, prospective jurors were screened carefully by both sides about their views on the death penalty. Although prosecuting attorneys relied on traditional questions to inform their exercise of peremptory challenges, the defense employed a variety of jury-selection techniques that were anchored on a mathematical model portraying ideal jurors that had been constructed by the social scientists on the defense team.

In the 1980’s,  jury selection expanded to trial consulting including focus groups and consumer profiling. An example, David Rudolf hired a jury consultant for the first trial (January 2003) of defendant Michael Peterson (Murder of his wife December 9, 2001). Although the eight part  documentary “drama” The Staircase”  by director, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade is slanted toward the defense’ perspective, you can readily see the true narcissistic character of Michael Peterson.

The defense team had thousands of dollars with which to put up their defense (although they had  “a budget”.) The team began their strategy in closed door sessions in a hotel by beginning with a written accounting of “Good Facts; Bad Facts.”

Jury consultant Margie Fargo, had these telling analytical  words to say when listening to comments of their focus group or in defense strategy meetings throughout the piece:

  • “This is not New York. This is THE SOUTH” regarding the topic of Michael Peterson’s bi-sexuality;
  • “His accent is too hard to understand and the jury may lose interest.” referring to the testimony of  Dr. Henry C. Lee;
  • “The defense hasn’t put up any emotion. It’s been science, science, science. They want to know the story. That’s a problem.”
  • In Michael Peterson’s words: “The DA has to win and on the other hand my lawyer wants to win. The truth is lost.”

With the thousands of dollars spent, and time spent strategizing, going to Germany to do “damage control “regarding the other woman who “mysteriously fell down the stairs,” the defense still lost the case. Was the money for jury consultants well spent? Some say that wealthy, New York Defense Attorney David Rudolf  whose best friend is Barry Scheck, was distrusted by the North Carolina jury.

The Trial Consulting Industry

In 1999, trial consulting was estimated to be a $400 million industry, with over 400 firms and over 700 practitioners  with varying degrees of expertise  in the areas of behavioral psychology, sociology,  the law, and communications and marketing.

Methods Used for Scientific Jury Selection include:  survey questions, focus groups, mock trials, pre-trial investigations and voire dire assistance.

This  “science” is perhaps more of an art in that predicting verdicts depends upon many variables.  Demographics and personalities are reported to account for at most 15% variability in verdicts.  In other words, there is no true way to predict the tendency of juries based on any variable!

Ms. Cleary’s research states that, more than any other factor, the quality of evidence determines the outcome of a trial. Therefore, the implication is that jury consultants might be better served to offer their expertise to attorneys in the area of evidence presentation versus jury selection! Well said!

“Jury of One’s Peers”  A farce? How can the process be fair when  some attorneys pay a lot of money for hand selected jurors and the fact that                            “some Americans, namely, persons who do not register to vote or hold driver’s licenses, are regularly excluded from jury selection”

Other issues brought to bear include the Constitutionality of “a group selected for their biases.” The scientific jury selection really is about “the perception of fairness” versus actual fairness.  The fact is there are no true standards that regulate participating professionals in trial consulting. Why not? SJS proponents essentially say it is better than nothing and that trial consultants don’t rely on “stereotypes of group attitudes” as attorneys do.

The Last Word:

“Never accept a juror whose occupation begins with a P. This includes pimps, prostitutes, preachers, plumbers, procurers, psychologists, physicians, psychiatrists, printers, painters, philosophers, professors, phony’s, parachutists, pipe-smokers, or part-time anythings.” –William Jennings Bryan (U.S. Congressman, Democratic presidential nominee, and former Secretary of State)

 

References:

“The Murky World” of Jury Consultants

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The Legacy of Leah Toby Roberts and the  “On the Road to Remember Tour“ with the CUE Center for Missing Persons 2014 

 

“There are no good-byes, wherever we are, you’ll always be in my heart”. Anonymous

GONE MISSING at age 23! Leah was an adventurous young woman from Durham, North Carolina who was inspired and grieving. If this combination was flirting with disaster only Leah, her perpetrator(s), and perhaps the well honed experience of Monica Caison, Founder of the Community United Effort (CUE) Center for the Missing would know in their heart of hearts.

Leah Roberts, Road to Remember Tour honoree, CUE Center for Missing Persons

Leah Roberts

Leah Roberts’ story is not a story in the sense of entertainment, rather, it is a true account with certain known facts, but also shrouded in mystery, possibilities, hypotheses, innuendo and lots of unsubstantiated speculation. The fact that CUE Center volunteers decided to “form a caravan”  on a grueling 14-day trip to retrace Leah’s route and inform the media of all those who were missing while performing this search, is the heart and soul of the “On Road to Remember Tour” and the reason for this blog.

What is the Road to Remember Tour?  In the Words of Monica Caison:

 “On the Road to Remember, National tour ” is an awareness campaign focusing on missing persons cases that have gone cold or have not received appropriate media coverage on the local level – much less the national level.. The tour, which travels through many states annually, provides that attention. Each year particular regions of the country are selected with “more interest growing “along the way. 

In all cases of missing people, it is vital to inform the public of the missing person’s circumstances quickly and to disseminate that information to the media and the public. In most cases where details are released immediately to the public through an organized campaign, the public brings forth information that aids in the investigation and or the location of the victim. The media plays a significant role in getting the word out on the behalf of the missing person and should be recognized as a vital resource to any investigation.

Interest in many of the cases we have featured in previous tours has been renewed. The media have learned about local cases they were unaware of; case investigations have been renewed, and searches conducted. Information has resulted in new leads in some cases, and has even helped identify an unknown decedent and in 2008 solved a cold case of twenty-eight years. Finally, with each tour, some of the missing persons featured have been found through various efforts. This is the main reason the Cue Center conducts the tour despite the toll it takes on our all-volunteer staff.

It is the belief of the CUE Center for Missing Persons that all investigations, the public, volunteers and the media should work in collaboration on cases involving missing children and adults; until this happens, their will continue to be cases of the missing labeled “cold” or “inactive.”

WHAT IS A RALLY STOP?

A rally stop is a place that is pre set by anyone who wishes to host one for suggested missing person(s). Once a location is secured CUE will inform the host of time and date of arrival. Each stop is one hour and a half  long for whatever program the host wishes to have and feature;  this is the time to bring an awareness to your community of missing persons.

Returning to Leah Roberts:

Events and known facts will be listed here and  perhaps some of the “theories” if only for the purpose of creating legitimate leads, jogging memories or “growing a conscience;”

  • Vital Statistics: Caucasian Female; DOB – 7-23-1976; 5’ 6” 130 pounds; sandy blonde hair blue eyes;
  • Distinguishing Marks: Pierced ears, dimples, Surgical scar on right hip, metal rod- femur –secondary to  previous car accident
  • Habits- Lifestyle – Vegetarian, smoker, Fluent Spanish speaker, strong southern dialect;
  • Leah spent much time at Cup O’ Joe’s Coffee House
  • One person on-line had this to say about this spot on Hillsborough Street:  “Well, I spend my Saturday afternoons at Cup A Joe on Hillsborough Street. I sit in the back and smoke cigars and work on my laptop. To me, it’s comfortable and the coffee is strong and the cookies are good, but the clientele can be a little weird. They are interesting to look at, though.” (Driving distance from Durham to Hillsborough is 14 miles). This may have been the correct location;
  • Leah dabbled in poetry, and was influenced in outlook at that time in her life by poet, Author,  and Journalist, Jack Kerouac. His public persona and his talented works were a contradiction in terms.  His 1951 book ‘”On the Road” no doubt inspired Leah as she set out on her adventure to “find herself and her true calling in life after many losses.  (From Biography.com: “On the Road,” a barely fictionalized account of these road trips packed with sex, drugs and jazz. Kerouac’s writing of On the Road in 1951 is the stuff of legend: He wrote the entire novel over one three-week bender of frenzied composition, on a single scroll of paper that was 120 feet long.” Jack died in 1969 of alcoholism and an abdominal hemorrhage at age 47.)

 

When Last Seen:

  • Wearing several pieces of gold, diamond and gem  jewelry including 14 carat gold earrings, .3 caret ruby stones, 3 rings on her right hand, 14 caret white gold ring set with .45 carat emerald cut diamond with 2 .07 carat baguette diamonds. (Jewelry may have belonged to her deceased Mother)
  • Leah left college in Durham, North Carolina during her senior year –Year 2000;
  • She left on a cross-country trip on March 9, 2000 and arriving om the west coast in just three days;
  • Leah did not  share her specific plans (in true adventurous spirit), but did notify her roommate that she was not suicidal;
  • Her 1993 white  Jeep  Cherokee was found down an embankment wrecked without her as driver or passenger  ~ 90 miles north of Seattle; The jeep was located on a logging road in Whatcom  County, Washington (setting from a Kerouac novel) nine days after she left North Carolina;
  • Belongings found and identified: Cat Food, guitar, compact discs, checkbook , movie ticket stub, and $2,500 tucked in the pocket of a pair of pants, credit card and driver’s license,
  • Other Observations:  No cat was located or signs of foul play, blankets covered the broken windows (as cover from the elements “for someone”);
  • Reportedly she spent just $100.00 in eight days of travel;
  • Sightings: A witness supposedly observed Leah and called in a tip from at a Texaco gas Station. The man claimed he and his wife observed her 30 moles from the scene of the crash. She was disoriented and did not know her identity. He abruptly ended the call, perhaps out of panic. Police feel this tip was credible. Reports of the Investigation Discovery show, “Disappeared” revealed that her Jeep may have been tampered with– to accelerate on its own;
  • In a Foothills Gazette.com article, Monica Caison is quoted as saying, “She could have been abducted as she walked out of there or that she ran into foul play and they staged it.”
  • “Theories” & Speculation: Picked up by a passing motorist while injured and disoriented on Mount baker Highway with an unknown assailant driving her vehicle where foul play ensued; Abduction & Kidnapping; Leah “staged the crash and decided to start a new life”; Leah wrecked her jeep, hitchhiked to get help, and was kidnapped by someone, Leah wrecked her jeep, hit her head, and is alive with some sort of amnesia.
    Leah was kidnapped sometime before her car crashed, and the kidnapper crashed her car.
  • Leah told two men at a bar-restaurant at lunch she was travelling alone; The perpetrator is a mechanic who tampered with her car and fled to Canada with-without her; She spent the night “in nature” and was removed from the car; A sexual sadist was involved as there was no robbery.  And on and on….  In the past, Leah’s sister, Kara, stated, “Leah was a young woman who was lost. You know by the time Leah was 22 she had lost both of her parents and here she is on the verge of graduating from college and I think she just really felt lost and didn’t have a lot of direction and I feel like she took this trip as a soul-searching trip…I think she just needed to go and get away to clear her mind.”
  • Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office
    Det. Mark Joseph
    (360) 676-6650
    OR
    Whatcom County Dispatch Center
    (360) 676-7722
    (360) 676-6711

 Tour Reviews from previous years:

……..   “a success, a blessing,  “a perpetual voice for missing persons everywhere.”

“This group of compassionate people who work harder than I ever imagined, stays on top of every detail, and at the same time, has time for the family, letting them know they are being heard, and helps in guiding them through what many have already endured first hand.” (Judi Jordan) 

Conclusion:

We honor Leah wherever she may be in 2014. We will never give up searching for her!  It matters not what her reasons were to experience her adventure in the manner she did. She was a free spirit, wanting to enjoy life until evil stepped in her path and the occurrence of circumstances beyond her control. The Community United Effort stands read to take action and mend hearts all across the nation for missing persons.

Donna Ingersoll, CUE Center for MIssing Persons, Road to Remember Tour 2014

Donna Ingersoll

I am so proud to be standing with CUE during their stop in New Haven, Connecticut this year as we honor  2014 National Honoree, Donna Ingersoll, missing from Waubesha, Minnesota since 1990.

PLEASE participate and support the Road to Remember Tour when it comes to your geographic location this year! It is vital to recognize these families and to create increased awareness such that loved ones can, at last be located and a sense of resolution achieved.”

IN THE AFTERMATH OF CRIME: For families of the missing and unsolved homicides who need assistance with completing a customized Victim Impact Statement, See link and contact me

 

 

References:

http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/r/roberts_leah.html

http://foothillsgazette.com/tag/leah-roberts/

http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/leah-toby-roberts/

http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/on-the-road-to-remember-national-tour2014/

http://unsolvedmysteries.wikia.com/wiki/Leah_Roberts

http://greenriverkillings.com/Blog/2011/01/06/disappearance-leah-roberts/

http://www.biography.com/people/jack-kerouac-9363719#synopsis

http://www.city-data.com/forum/raleigh-durham-chapel-hill-cary/242916-funky-comfortable-coffee-house.html

 

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How A Town Heals From Mass Tragedy

 

In the aftermath of the mass homicides of Newtown, CT, I wondered how a town collectively heals after such events.  We have innumerable examples from which to draw for purposes of discussion. What follows is not an exhaustive account, but a sampling of how each tragedy blossomed into positive remembrances.

The primary element,  the motivation in each of these true life occurrences was that the focus was on the humanity and goodness of the victim(s) lost versus the event itself.

The Aftermath of July 23, 2007: The Petit Family Murders:

 

Petit family

Petit Family (photo CBS News)

Following a rampage that included stalking, kidnapping, bank robbery, physical restraint, sexual assault/rape, torture ,murder and arson of Dr. William Petit,  Jr and the three Petit women/girls, the State of Connecticut was shaken to its core. Cries for the death penalty for both offenders and an outpouring of collective grief and support were initiated by people around the globe. That one man could survive and ultimately carry on with life is a major miracle.  How did the sleepy town of Cheshire begin and continue on the path of recovery?

Examples:

1) Within the Cheshire playground, Bartlem Park, lined with inscribed bricks, there is one that reads, “In Memory of the Petits;”

2) Cheshire Academy: Employer of Wife/Mother Jennifer Hawk-Petit. (a former nurse), created memorial garden in her name;

3) Creation of the Petit Family Foundation whose multiple missions include the sponsoring of scholarships in the areas of women pursuing careers in science, families of violent crime and Multiple Sclerosis. (Jennifer Hawk- Petit suffered from MS); Also:

The Aftermath of Columbine High School:

Shooting at Columbine High School

Shooting at Columbine High School (AP Photo/Rocky Mountain News, Rodolfo Gonzalez/file)

April 20, 1999 A rampage by two crazed, depressed male students who were outcasts with a death wish with grandiose ideas to make an unforgettable impact on the world before they went down. The bomb failed, but the bullets seemingly never stopped until 12 students, and one teacher was shot dead, 21 others were injured.

  • The Greater Littletown Youth Initiative: After 13 years, this group composed of school personnel. Mental health professionals, law enforcement and citizens continue to meet every Friday to discuss their children, issues and preventative measures to forestall future attacks: A strong emphasis is placed specifically on “Blueprint” programs.
  • A powerful “Lie-down protest” with dozens of participants by the steps of the State Capital the day after the shootings to plead for tougher gun laws.
  •  Rachael’s Challenge: An outgrowth of kindness and compassion begun at the muddle school level- Anti-bullying;
  • Columbine CD Producer Announces New CD Project Honoring Life of Columbine Victim:
  • A new CD project has been launched by Columbine CD producer honoring the life and legacy of Rachel Joy Scott, the student who gained much notoriety from her death in the tragedy at Columbine High School.
  • Honoring Daniel Welcome to the Daniel Mauser website. This site is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Conner Mauser. Daniel was taken from us in the tragic massacre at Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999.
  • The 10th Anniversary of The Columbine Massacre: About 1,000 people gathered for a sunset memorial service at Clement Park, next to the school, where survivors, relatives and current students reflected on the massacre. A dove was released for each of the 13 victims as principal Frank DeAngelis read their names.

 The Aftermath of the Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University Rampage Shootings

Remembering Virginia Tech Shooting

Remembering Virginia Tech Shooting

On April 16, 2007, 32 students and faculty were killed on campus and 17 others injured in two separate attacks by a deranged student. The massacre prompted the state of Virginia to close legal loopholes that had previously allowed Cho, an individual adjudicated as mentally unsound, to purchase handguns without detection by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The incident prompted schools nationwide to install state-of-the-art notification systems that would broadcast warnings to cellphones, electronic bulletin boards, e-mail accounts and social media. Virginia Tech, especially, began responding to any campus threat.

  • Day of Remembrance: We Remember: Organized runs, candlelight vigils, picnics poetry, music and other events have been part of the remembrance every year…
  • The Annual Day of Remembrance & Website: 32 students and faculty members who were tragically taken from their loved ones and our community on April 16, 2007. They ranged in age from 18 to 76 and represented a variety of academic areas, faith and ethnic groups
  • VT Engage: The Community Learning Initiative: Includes a variety of service projects and grants to inspire VT students to become part of the larger community.
  • The Office of Support & Recovery was initiated after the massacre to facilitate support, commemoration activities, student alerts and provide counseling;

Assassination Attempt of Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Gifford shooting

Gabrielle Gifford shooting (photo/CNN)

The Aftermath of the rampage shootings on January 8, 2011 and attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson Arizona. Six fatalities and 13 additional injured persons were targeted at a supermarket.

  • Americans for Responsible Citizens – Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly’s effort to advocate for responsible gun policies and decrease the power of gun lobbies. ;
  • As of February 2012, the U.S, Navy honored Gabby Giffords by naming a ship in her honor for  supporting the military and veterans, advocating for renewable energy and championing border security,”

 

 The Aftermath of Newtown, CT /Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre- December 14. 2012.

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (photo/AP)

A work still in progress with gifts, donations, honors and remembrances of every variety imaginable. However a few words of caution from experts

testifying before the Connecticut Legislature on “Recovering from National Tragedies: How Schools and Communities Recover” February 22, 2013.  Experts Dr. Thomas DeMaria of Long Island NY and the 9/11 Mass Homicides and Dr. Marlene Wong of Los Angeles spoke on this topic.

 

A couple of the many interesting points to keep in mind when formulating recommendations, and implementing policies regarding the outpouring of support and the physical environment of the event:   

1) Dealing with the outpouring of gifts – It is well-intentioned, but can be a real problem and barrier to healing as schools have to rent warehouses to store the goods and figure out how to distribute equitably is a real problem as well as the  increased expenses incurred. More importantly, the access to celebrities and, numerous material goods is not normal in the everyday scheme of life and should be done with care and caution.

2) It is vitally important to change the entire environment in which the event occurred (if it is not razed) such that children feel safe. Historically, they will not enter an environment where they witnessed violence.  Therefore, changing the physical structure, layout, painting, making it bright and welcoming is very important for their healing.

 3) If it is not changed, the scene tends to attract local voyeurs and curiosity seekers, going to the site, wanting to have their photo taken on site etc.

A sign of hope. Both psychologists felt that there is a multitude of support in Newtown and Connecticut,  and that they are better suited than many small towns to deal with the aftermath.  Link:

 “How a town heals is a measure of the goodness of its people.”   DRG

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WHERE’S THE HEART IN JOURNALISM FOR THE PLIGHT OF VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIME?

o-PHILIP-RUSSO-facebook

In bygone years, journalists were supposed to stick to the “W’s” – Who, What, Where, When, Why …and How  to present a factual account of a journalistic piece.  However, as a survivor of crime, I now clearly see that reams of paper and ink are devoted to the “who” meaning the perpetrator and the “what” with a more than healthy dose of sensationalism, frequently at the expense of the crime victims. Victims’ families are nearly ignored in this process. The more grisly the better in journalism and viewers flock like a feeding frenzy.  Like it or not, that’s the way it is.

This leaves them as “second class citizens, “out in the cold”, “at the back of the bus” and “a virtual afterthought at best!”  Do journalists really give the public what they want?  Or, is this just rationalization or an excuse for reprehensible behavior in presenting such a skewed image of the people and circumstances involved? I would like to think that the general public, irrespective of their thirst for the immediacy of social media, would “take the high road” if guided.

What is “the high road?” The high road would include: presenting a balanced picture-not to sensationalize; to stick to verified factual information; to not “rush to judgment “ for the sake of beating to the punch  a competing news organization; to humanize the victims above all else, rather than used as a pawn in the ever complex judicial chess game.

The truth is, if journalists did a better job of humanizing the victims, I’m certain there would be positive “spill over effect” to court personnel and the enforcement of crime victims’ constitutional rights!

Enter, Stage Left, my customized victim impact writing service designed for victims “lost in the media swirl” who desperately need a cohesive, objective, experienced voice to convey the heart and soul of their loved one!

A prime example of getting caught in the abyss of the horror of mass homicide without as place to turn is Philip Russo, widower,  former husband of Shelia Russo passionate advocate for the downtrodden, working as the Tribal Administrator on tribal land in Alturas, California (although the mass shooting took place in the tribal office, the building itself does not sit on tribal land). In February, Phil’s entire world “faded to black’.  It all went horribly wrong in an instant!

In order to assist Phil in his quest to the correct the misconceptions of this tragedy, to focus on all victims, including the memory of Shelia, (as opposed to the press the murderer has received,) I submitted selected interview questions to Phil to reflect upon. Readers should keep in mind that his responses reflect a very new and early and very thoughtful perspective

In addition, in more than 30 years of working with crime victims, I have NEVER heard of a more egregious failure of “the system,” a more convoluted, complex, bureaucratic wasteland forced upon this man; lacking in sufficient resources for a crime victim in my life, all due to many circumstances beyond Phil’s control.        It is the proverbial “black hole “you would not wish upon your worst enemy.

This is the very circumstance, which calls for others to step up and step in, including assistance with victim impact, where applicable!

However, on the positive side, I must say at the outset, with people connections, resources and some support, Phil is just beginning to “see the light of day” ever so slowly, with his overwhelming sense of grief the most difficult part of his battle.

I am honored that he chose to participate and offer his voice for the benefit of others.

Questions and Responses for Phil Russo

Thus far, what is the one most difficult lesson you have learned about being a victim of violent crime?    

Personally speaking, it was the realization that all of the programs and people everyone thinks are out there to aid someone in my situation are either nonexistent or were or little to no help to me. I went through all of the traditional sources for victim’s assistance, not one was able to connect me with the help I was seeking.  I was thrown into a quicksand of red tape. Having to jump through hoops to complete paperwork and make phone calls. Dealing with bureaucracy is the last thing you want deal with when you’re experiencing debilitating grief. For me, the ability to speak with people who had experienced losing someone to gun violence, just as I had, was crucial. I’ve had the good fortune to speak with many other survivors, who tell me they all had the same experience. It was only through reaching out on my own that I was able to find people like you, who were able to put me on the right path.    I feel grateful for having come across the people I’ve met through social media. If it weren’t for all friends that I’ve made by striking out on my own for help, I don’t know where I’d be today.  I’m lucky in that whatever it was that possessed me to use social media to reach out has led to meeting so many caring people.  I hate to think about all the other victims who aren’t as lucky as I am in that regard.  On the positive side, one of the enlightening things that I’ve learned is that in times of tragedy, you need to surround yourself with caring supportive people. When Shelia was first killed, I was determined to make it through this on my own.  I realized though, that I was never going to make it alone. I needed help. So I opened my heart and reached out to others and it has made all the difference.

What is the biggest misconception that the media has concerning this horrible crime?  

article-2565664-1BB8DBDF00000578-661_634x826There are a few things. First, regarding Shelia’s role in all of this, Shelia’s job as Tribal Administrator was to implement the decisions made by the tribe.   Shelia had no role in the decision making process for the recall elections or the evictions.  Her job was to merely oversee the proceedings to make sure they were carried out per the tribe’s by laws.

Then, there are some who are of the opinion that this is just a common occurrence with Native American’s on reservations. I believe this is a misconception fueled by prejudice.

Regarding the matter of the embezzlement, it’s hard for me to believe that Cherie Rhoades would kill 4 people and try to wipe out the entire tribe merely over her eviction. There were 19 people in the building that day, and according to testimony by law enforcement, Rhoades made statements that she intended to kill everyone.  Remember, this is woman who was receiving $80,000 a year and living in her house for free, simply for being a tribal member.  She could have simply packed up and moved elsewhere very easily.  Sources put the dollar amount of the embezzlement at $50,000, but that was just according to the 2012 financial audit. The accounting records for the previous years were so poorly kept, that they were going to have to recreate them forensically.  Cherie Rhoades was the chairwoman for 10 years.   I believe that if they dig deeper that they would find a lot more.

Hypothetically speaking, do you feel that if but for multiple victims, victims within the same family and culture as the perpetrator, your wife’s murder would not have “gotten lost”? Why/Why not?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  I don’t know why this story, as a whole, has gotten very little attention. Even some of the activist groups that I’ve become a member of didn’t even know this shooting occurred.  I’m not sure if it’s because of all the reasons you’ve listed or our extremely remote location. Those all very well could be the reasons. Then again, maybe not. I’m not sure why.  I’m still trying to figure this out.

In your opinion, what can realistically be done to incentivize journalists to begin focusing on crime victims versus the perpetrators?

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of trying to incentivize or the need to humanize them…  People have commented to me that the media is just giving the public what it wants I think that’s a cop out. People are still going to read the stories to learn the facts. I believe that media can still report the news without glorifying the perpetrators and all of the sensationalism.  I can understand why some people are apprehensive about talking to the media. They’re afraid of being taken out of context and exploited and rightly so.  It certainly does go on, but I think that we as victims need to speak out more.  We need to talk about our loved ones.  We need to tell the stories of their lives and all the good things they did so that they are remembered for WHO they were and not by how they were killed.  Remember, for every positive story that we DON’T tell, the media will only publish the negative. I want people to see real cost of this violence, the human factor. I think that honoring the victims is something that everyone can relate to and hopefully, in some way, it may help to bring an end to this violence.  I think that we also need to hold the media accountable for what they publish.  If you see an exploitive news story, call the news director or station manager where the story appears and let them know that it’s insensitive to the victims. It’s just something that needs to be taken on one battle at time. That’s activism 101.

One of the ironies of this case is that your wife’s background was rich in accomplishments with much to be written about as a feature story. What would your feature story include about Shelia? 

The wonderful thing about Sheila is that for all of her accomplishments, she always remained just a humble country girl from Bakersfield. Shelia was one of the most caring, loving, non judgmental and down to earth people that you’d ever meet. She was driven by an innate passion to help others and it was her compassion that was really the key to her success.  Major accomplishments aside, it was all the little things she did in between that made Shelia who she was.  After her death, people that had known Sheila in the past came out in droves to contact me. People I never knew or heard of before.  They shared wonderful stories with me about Shelia had impacted their lives. They told me Shelia was a mentor to them, how Shelia gave them jobs when other people gave up on them. One woman told me how Shelia was able to “work her magic” and save her grandmother’s house from being taken away by the Bureau of Land Management. People were so compelled to reach out to tell me, they sent their cards and letters in care of the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office because they had no other way to reach me.  Even in her free time Shelia took every opportunity to write in public forums about issues that were important to her.  She was very well educated on the issues of the day and not afraid to debate on healthcare and immigration reform, environmental and climate issues, and marriage equality. In true Shelia fashion, always fighting for the underdog.  Not more than a week before she was killed, I asked Shelia the question if what she did for work seemed like a job to her, or if she loved it so much that it didn’t seem like work. She thought for a second and then answered me. She said that she loved what she did so much, that to her, it wasn’t work at all. In fact, she would do it even if she was never paid for it. It was just a way of life for Shelia.  That’s the kind of person Shelia was.Unknown
People have asked me if this tragedy has hardened my heart. The answer is no, and quite frankly just the opposite is true. It’s really caused my heart to open more. I hate to sound cliché, but it does make you realize what is truly important in life and how trivial most the things that conflict us really are.   Sheila already firmly grasped this “big picture” of life, even without suffering the tragedy. The things that meant the most in life to Shelia were her children, her family, friends, her love for nature and animals, and her desire to do good things in her lifetime.  A few years ago, Shelia posted on Facebook “What makes life worth living is working to create the mark that you leave on this world”. The people who have recently come to know Shelia through me all tell me how inspirational her story is. This is the reason why I try so hard to tell her story.  I know that Shelia will continue to inspire and open hearts.  This is the gift that Shelia has given to me.  This is the mark that Shelia has left on this world. This is the Shelia that I want people to know.

Comments and Conclusions:

I am truly touched at the thoughtful, sensitive nature of Phil’s reflections, revelations and truths regarding the circumstances and the character of his wife – even at this early stage in his journey.  There truly is no “right or wrong responses” when we try to access one’s intellect combined with places in the heart… It is only through the process of reaching out to others in times of need that we really begin to understand the richness of life itself. Sheila would have wanted it that way. I feel it! We will attempt to keep you updated on this story. To contact Phil Russo: philip_russo@yahoo.com;

Contact me for information about Victim Impact Statement Services available if you have the need:  Email ladyjusticedonna@gmail.com

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