Victim Impact Statements: Texas Style

lone-star-state-386514_640

Of all the 50 States, we know by reputation that Texas doesn’t mess around, in particular when it comes to executions. They rank #1 with 522 state executions since 1982, and six thus far in 2015. Compared to other states, Texas takes a hard line.

When their victim impact statement packet is examined from a formatting standpoint, it appears to me, a homicide survivor, to be thorough.

Texas is an “opt in” state for crime victims in choosing to receive “cafeteria style” services from a list versus granting all services automatically and asking a family to “opt out” of those services they are not interested in.

A useful feature of their packet highlights how under which circumstances a victim impact statement is used.

  • PROSECUTOR:  Considers VIS before entering a plea agreement; Considers VIS before to determine restitution (if requested)
  • JUDGE: Considers VIS before imposing sentence by judge (No jury hers it.) Considers VIS before accepting a plea deal;
  • DEFENSE: (EXCLUDING Confidential Info Sheet. Includes notification preferences and personal demographic info.)  The Defense “may see” VIS with the court’s approval and may introduce evidence or testimony regarding content accuracy;
  • PROBATION DEPARTMENT: “Has access” to VIS;
  • TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE:  As part of the process, if the defendant is sentenced to prison, the VIS is forwarded to the TDCJ;
  • BOARD OF PARDONS & PAROLE: The BP&P will “consider the VIS” prior to rendering a decision whether to release the prisoner to parole supervision or to retain.

If we examine the language, some parties “consider,” others “may see” while still others only “forward.”  It would appear that not everyone in the system has equal weight, as it should be, with the judge as the final authority.

Next, the packet includes “dry” statutory definitions and a list of general victim rights followed by rights concerning victims of sexual assault.

Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 56 Texas Constitution, Article I Section 30

  • Receive adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from cooperation with prosecution efforts;
  • have their safety considered by the magistrate when setting bail;
  • receive information, on request, of relevant court proceedings, including appellate proceedings, of cancellations and rescheduling prior to the event, and appellate court decisions after the decisions are entered but before they are made public;
  • be informed, when requested, by a peace officer about the defendant’s right to bail and criminal investigation procedures, and from the prosecutor’s office about general procedures in the criminal justice system, including plea agreements, restitution, appeals and parole;
  • provide pertinent information concerning the impact of the crime to the probation department prior to sentencing;
  • information about the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund and payment for a medical examination for a victim of sexual assault, and, on request, referral to social service agencies that provide additional assistance;
  • information, on request, about parole procedures; notification of parole proceedings and of the inmate’s release; and the opportunity to participate in the parole process by submitting written information to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file for consideration by the Board prior to parole;
  • a separate or secure waiting area at all public court proceedings;
  • prompt return of any property that is no longer needed as evidence;
  • have the prosecutor notify, upon request, an employer that the need for the victim’s testimony may involve the victim’s absence from work;
  • on request, counseling and testing regarding AIDS and HIV infection and testing for victims of sexual assault
  • request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  • be informed of the use and purpose of a victim impact statement, to complete a victim impact statement and to have the statement considered before sentencing and acceptance of a plea bargain and before an inmate is released on parole.

A victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim may be present at all public court proceedings, with the consent of the presiding judge; 

A judge, attorney for the state, peace officer, or law enforcement agency is not liable for a failure or inability to provide a service enumerated herein. 

Victims should also know that they can have a victim advocate accompany them during the sexual assault exam if an advocate is available at the time of the examination. 

Please call your crime victim services contacts in law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office for more information about victim services in your community. 

Contents of the Confidential Information Sheet 

  • Basic identifying info regarding the defendant;
  • Instructions and  brief checklist regarding the effect that the crime had on the victim and family;
  • Victim’s Name; 19 item Checklist with emotionally related feelings (i.e. Changes in sleep pattern, anger, depression, fear of strangers etc.)
  • Question – if counseling has been sought, with the opportunity to write a narrative about the family member’s “thoughts, feelings and general well-being”.
  • Narrative Section for Physical Injuries suffered due to the crime, asking  the extent of injuries, longevity and location of treatment received;
  • Financial Loss Section- Requests the type of losses incurred with a brief checklist including inquiry re victim compensation and the recommendation of keeping a log
  • Final signature and Date

What’s Missing?

There is no mention, nor can I find legislative effort for Texas families to provide photos of their loved one during these vitally important events. This may exist if requeste, I just could not locate any evidence in my search that it is part of the procedure.

MISSING- Any recommendation to “paint the picture” using a  description of who the deceased victim was as a person, as a member of the family, his/her  previous contributions, talents, hopes, dreams, missed opportunities!  No mention is made to provide a videotaped statement by significant family members who cannot physically attend or who may be elderly, frail and pass on in the future and want to have their wishes documented.

It’s like baking a cake and omitting the flour!

Finding the Missing Piece

puzzle-654961_640One of the remaining avenues for crime victims to have a voice within the courts is through victim impact statements. Victim impact statements are usually read after trial as a way to get into the record the impact of the crime on the victims along with their friends and families.

Creating the appropriate victim impact statement can be a daunting task for families during one of the most traumatic times in their lives. After the initial loss, the journey through the judicial system can be equally frustrating, time-consuming and emotionally draining, re-traumatizing and bringing grief back to the surface. To best utilize the victims’ right to present a victim impact statement at trial, you must be clear-headed and as objective as possible, which for the crime victim is next to impossible.

I provide a professional Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for surviving victims that may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings.

If you are in the above situation, please go to Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for more information and my credentials.

 

 

References:

http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/pubs_victim_impact_statement.html

https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/victims/victim_rights.shtml

 

My Dad “In the Rear View Mirror” 

Donald Gore

Donald Gore, my father

Another milestone is occurring this week; the 34th anniversary of my father Donald Gore’s murder. There’s no easy way to say it. In searching my mind for what to write, what might inspire others to carry on with their journey, I struggle with each passing year.  Some of the bad memories have faded away to oblivion, other images have remained in infamy.

In this struggle, I realized that if I cannot say something new or different, it’s not really about my dad anymore, it’s about the mission of serving others in his memory. The circumstances of the crime and the myriad of errors that occurred remain the same. However, there are always new challenges and new people to assist.

(My previous blog relates the circumstances of my father’s murder if readers are unfamiliar: History can only be written by the survivors….)

Actually, I have two milestones here; April 17, 1981, my father’s “death anniversary”  is the first milestone.  However, a much more celebratory, yet bittersweet, anniversary is the two-year anniversary of the parole hearing for the perpetrator that occurred on April 24, 2013. A day to remember for me and my family was captured well by Dr. Laurie Roth on her national radio show the same evening; the good, the bad, the ugly all rolled into one!  If you’re in a similar circumstance I hope listening will provide you with helpful information.

A Victory for Victims of Crime

Of great significance was the fact that our family was able to fend off a bid for freedom for my father’s murderer for another five years AND changed State of Connecticut Policy in terms of upholding a victim’s right to anonymity.  Using our right to deliver a victim impact statement was of utmost importance in this hearing and helped generate the outcome.

Dealing with a dangerous criminal face to face, and prohibiting access to a family via the internet, is of utmost importance and we are proud to be a part of positive change for other victims of crime.  Victim Anonymity PRESS RELEASE 8 12 13

The entire experience was disturbing after all these years, and yet it was our shining moment in the best of ways. For her assistance to my family, thank you to Attorney- Advocate Michelle S. Cruz for the miracles that took place that day due in large part to her skills!

Who was My Father?

Donald Gore racing his motorcycle

Donald Gore racing his motorcycle

Donald W. Gore was man like any other. He was not perfect, but did the best he could and always provided for his family with a fierce work ethic. His claim to fame involved motorcycle championships many years running.  He was on the verge of a new entrepreneurial opportunity when he was struck down forever at age 47.  Today, all family members carry on each in their own ways. I say proudly, I not only survive, but thrive!  For all of the professional relationships and friendships I have made over these many years, I am forever grateful.

So, if there is one lesson to be learned from murder, it is that you can carry on and even thrive with time!

We will have to “prepare with our armor and our raw emotions” for the next parole hearing in 2018, however, there is so much work to do for others in the meantime! My Dad would like that!

My Dad “In the Rear View Mirror”

The Irresistible Force Meets the Hired Killer of the “Manson Family”  

 A Victory for Victim Impact

Doris Tate delivers victim impact statement at the parole hearing of Tex Watson

Doris Tate delivers victim impact statement at the parole hearing of Tex Watson

Imagine my surprise when perusing YouTube to suddenly come upon a video that “speaks a million words” in just over four minutes!

Doris Tate was a heroine and the mother of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered by “Tex” (Charles Denton) Watson.  Tex also killed four others during a spree murderous rampage over two days. Tex and others carried out the killings orchestrated by Charles Manson.  The scene was Benedict Canyon in Los Angeles, California, August 1969. Watson was found guilty of murder in 1971. However, the death penalty was overturned in California in 1972 for four years and his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

All baby boomers recall the horror of this crime. The heinous acts included stabbing Sharon 16 times as she was in her 8th month of pregnancy; scrawling the word “PIG” on the door of the Polanski-Tate home and killing three of Tate’s houseguests. Co-conspirators Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel murdered coffee heiress Abigail Folger and neighbors Rosemary and Leno La Bianca.  Leno LaBianca suffered seven stab wounds and had the word “War” carved in his abdomen.  Prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi called Atkins “A heartless bloodthirsty robot” who did Manson’s bidding.  Susan Atkins admitted killing Sharon Tate.

According to internet sources, all surviving participants are now advanced in age and have accepted responsibility. (Susan Atkins died in 2009). Tex converted to Christianity, became an ordained minister,  married while in prison and had three children in the 1980’s. Watson was denied parole at least 14 times over the years.

“I Feel Sorry for this Man as he Chose this Way of Life.”

Doris Tate, mother of slain Sharon Tate

Doris Tate, mother of slain Sharon Tate

Was it a comfort to Doris Tate that Tex had “accepted responsibility” in his own way? I doubt it. Doris had the opportunity to “go head to head” with Tex in 1982. This was the first ever true victim impact statement delivered by a female.   I am not sure that I would have had the strength or courage to sit three feet away from “my murderer” across the table, as she did!

Doris became the champion of victim’s rights in the midst of the most horrific crime of that era.  She was adamant that serial killers could never be trusted, rehabilitated or released from prison. The followers of Charles Manson were little more than hollow waifs duped into thinking that Manson’s propaganda and drug induced brainwashing and hate “served a higher purpose.”

In reality, it caused irreparable harm to many. It introduced the “love and peace generation” to mass murder and forever tainted our hearts!

The First Victim Impact Statement by Doris Tate: (4 min,26 secs)

Watch and listen at least twice …. Just amazing! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr-MUJsROKQ 

 “When Do I (As the Mother of Sharon Tate) Come Up for Parole?

Indeed! When your daughter is 8 month pregnant and is stabbed 16 times, you are forever a prisoner of the horrible details. You miss out on life milestones that will never be.  You never get relief. You don’t get your loved one back and you never come up for parole!

I won’t even get into the bizarre effort of Susan La Barge, the daughter of Rosemary and Leno La Bianco  who pleaded for the release of Charles Tex Watson in 1990. Susan’s mother was stabbed 42 times! I won’t even get into it! I won’t tell you what Doris said! Talk about crazy!

Sadly, Doris Tate passed away on July 10, 1992 at age 68.  Her memory and accomplishments will live on in history and in the hearts and minds of crime victims everywhere.   May you finally rest in peace Sharon and your grandchild.

This brings me to the point that, in 2015, a finely crafted, personal victim impact statement can create a powerful impact, as Doris’s did to pave the way for others. Don’t leave such an important event to chance.  Contact me with advanced notice for optimal results!  And NEVER forget about Doris Tate!

You can find details on Victim Impact Statement Assistance at this link:

http://donnagore.com/victim-impact-statement-assistance/

Crime Victimization & Victim Impact: Nuts & Bolts and Some “Intangibles”

crime-268896_640

Just keeping afloat in 2015, takes incredible fortitude and courage. Seemingly at every turn, we see violence, sadness, corruption, natural disaster, loss of morality, indifference and a general “dumbing down” of standards that used to be impenetrable. When we have such forces as our backdrop for life, our yardstick, how do we possibly deal with our personal devastation in the aftermath of crime? How do we personally “keep afloat” and find a sense of hope? It is the hardest challenge we will ever face!

Who Does a Better Job?

Although we have made great strides with the infrastructure of victim advocacy over the years, the humanity, the compassion and support and the “going the extra mile” often lags behind when it comes to governmental services perpetually faced with financial cuts. In my opinion, it is the grass root non-profit organizations who have figured out how to do more with less and made friends with community partners, and survivors of crime themselves who appear to be better equipped to provide the services most needed.

Nuts & Bolts of Victim Impact Statement:

During the sentencing phase of a trial or board of pardons and parole hearing, a crime victim is metaphorically standing at the crossroads of their “forever after existence.” That person hopefully has given much thought and has decided what is truly important to convey to the court or BPP officials individually or collectively with the assistance of a paid advocate or fellow survivor.  As the surviving victim, you should ask yourself before you even attempt to compose a statement, what should be my primary focus? What do I really want?  A review of possible options is helpful – non-hierarchical)

  • The emotional impact and devastation of my loss;
  • Financial  restitution;
  • Requesting a verbal or written apology from the offender;
  • Having the opportunity to add new  information to the formal record with the potential of altering the length and provisions of sentencing;
  • Using this forum for emotional release;
  • Describing the future legacy of your murdered loved one;
  • Educating judicial officials regarding your unique needs and nuances of the process which were previously overlooked but very important to you;
  • Expressing forgiveness to “a higher power” as a way of self-healing;

Other Considerations:

  • In the State of Connecticut when delivering your victim impact statement, you are not limited regarding the length of time, nor is the content edited in any way, according to our Board of Pardons and Parole website and personal experience.
  • In the State of South Carolina, a videotaped statement cannot exceed five minutes in the case of one victim, ten minutes for multiple victims.
  • (Be sure to check with your state as rules vary from state to state.)
  • Physical Environment – During a court sentencing, you will be facing the judge with the defendant behind you or to the right or left of you as you make your presentation.  Your statement is part of the official court record, or hearing.
  • Restitution and Compensation (From the National Center for Victims of Crime) Increasing the likelihood that restitution will be ordered:  Victims can do two things to increase the likelihood that restitution will be ordered in their case: gather information about their financial loss, and request that restitution be ordered.  To increase the chances that restitution will be ordered, victims should make sure their victim impact statement includes a summary of the out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crime
  • The difference between restitution and compensation: While restitution is court-ordered payment from a convicted offender, crime victim compensation is a state government program that pays many of the out-of-pocket expenses of victims of violent crime even when there is no arrest or prosecution. Ordinarily, to be eligible for compensation the victim is required to report the offense within a certain amount of time, cooperate in the investigation and prosecution, and file an application within a set time. The expenses covered by compensation vary and are usually set by state law. All compensation programs cover medical expenses, most cover counseling, and very few cover any property loss.
  • In comparison, restitution can only be ordered in cases where someone has been convicted. However, restitution can be ordered in almost any case (although courts may be required to order it only for certain offenses), and can be ordered for a wider variety of losses, including property loss. A victim cannot collect both compensation and restitution for the same losses.
  • Technology- Videoconferencing is a concept that has existed since 1996. The clear leader in this area appears to be the State of Michigan. They began in 2004 with the Department of Corrections bringing the total of videoconferencing sites to 64, including five “telemed” sites. Imagine never having to leave prison grounds for prisoner –immigration hearings, dietician and mental health appointments! This is an up and coming industry of vast proportions.  MDs  can even use electronic stethoscopes to listen to heart and lungs and view x-rays instantly! Viola! This is all in the name of reducing costs and increasing efficiency!
  • Is there a line in the sand that needs to be drawn to say that victims of crime also need these innovative heath care services, particularly the elderly after having suffered their tremendous losses? Indeed!
  • “Intangibles”- meaning loss of productivity, medical care, mental health, use of public safety services, property loss, “tangible losses”, “quality of life” loss .  The problem is, the data available is so old – from the National Institute of Justice – January 1996, and can only be used as a general reference. Basically, 19 years ago…
  • Estimates of monetary values, including lost wages were in the range of $500,000 to $7 million;

What is Pain and Suffering and Quality of life really worth?

  • In 1996, violent crime was 3% of all medical spending and 14% of injury related spending and 10-20% of mental health expenditures in the U.S.
  • At that time, losses per incident of criminal victimization (including attempts) looked like this for fatal crimes including rape and murder-
  • Loss of productivity- $1,000,000;
  • Medical Care /Ambulance- $16,300;
  • Social-Victim Services- 0
  • Mental Health – $4,800;
  • Police & Fire Services – $1,300;
  • Property Loss/Damage – $120.00
  • Murder “Tangible Losses (Subtotal) “$1,030.000
  • “Intangible Quality of Life Losses” $1,910.00;
  • Total = $2,940.000

(Reference for above from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf)

Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service

VIGraphic.001One can assume that for today’s standards, the current cost of living and the escalation of spree and mass murder, these figures may be triple or more per incident. (In my humble opinion)

I do not put much faith in numbers, for they can always be manipulated to serve ones’ point of view, human error is rampant and they do not tell the whole story. I believe that an investment in people and their true life stories illuminate our understanding and pave the way for change far better than what a calculator reveals.

In some cases, the surviving victims may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings. A professional who has experience as a victim of crime, as well as assisting others through trials, can help you put your thoughts into a professionally written statement, and coach you on your delivery in court.

If you are anticipating the task of victim impact statement writing with trepidation, perhaps I can assist.

 

Crime Victimization & Victim Impact: Nuts & Bolts and Some “Intangibles”