A social work major whose former mission included helping the elderly, those who frequented soup kitchens …and even stray animals was murdered on May 24, 1994. Her life was snuffed out in a horrific manner. She was strangled and then stuffed in a gym bag by an ex-boyfriend whose state of mind was, “If I can’t have her… no one else will.” Melanie’s memory now stands taller than the Empire State building, thanks to her parents who have built a symbolic edifice with a strong foundation. Inmate 23062 cannot shake the will of this family to continue to provide information and enlightenment about crime victimization as only they can…. The Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference is significantly different in that it is a Conference sponsored and managed by survivors of crime for other crime victims first and foremost, service providers, law enforcement, faculty and students. As Sam Rieger states, “They leave changed forever and come back again and again.”
It’s been 18 years since the intimate partner homicide occurred… and we are on the doorstep of the 16th Annual Conference on May 30-31st, entitled, “Resilience after Devastation –Putting the Pieces Back Together.” When one compares the enthusiasm and compassion of a budding 19-year-old, how does that compare to an educational conference? We would rather have Melanie here, no doubt. However, this conference has been life changing for the masses across the nation. What better tribute can a family give to their beloved daughter? Ladyjustice can think of no better legacy… When you try to quantify the loss, there isn’t much available for crime victims in Connecticut… or in any state for that matter. As we see domestic violence/intimate partner homicide rise to epidemic proportions, we must not stand still and shake our heads.
Listen to SHATTERED LIVES: Resilience After the Devastation, with guests, Sam and Wanda Rieger:
- Prosecutors say that represent “the State”, not the murder victim and not the family;
- Counseling sessions are limited to six (to be divided among their immediate family of four – 1, 5 sessions per person?) ;
- The perpetrator appears to have most of the legal rights;
- Victimized families become stigmatized, as Initial supporters, friends and family may fall away from the situation, saying, “It’s time to move on.” But you can’t….
- In the Rieger’s case, a multitude of needless Habeas Corpus Appeals have occurred. A 2010 article from http://www.Hartford Info.org stated: “These are the two poles of an ongoing debate over when and how often convicted prisoners should be allowed to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed right of habeas corpus.
The U.S. Supreme court has called the right of prisoners to demand a review of their convictions a “fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.” Civil liberty activists argue restrictions on that right endanger all our freedoms. Crime victims and their families tell stomach-turning stories of being repeatedly called to testify in habeas hearings years after convictions, of never knowing when the horror of a rape or murder will finally be put to rest. “We were victimized by the perpetrator and now, for the past 16 years, we’re being victimized by the criminal justice system,” says Samuel Rieger, whose daughter Melanie was killed by Crespo in her Waterbury home. “In our case, there’s absolutely no new information,” Rieger argues. “He’s admitted he’s guilty. There’s enough evidence to put him away for a hundred years.” Prosecutors say Crespo isn’t an isolated case. They estimate 20 percent of all habeas petitions involve repeat filings.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane says the backlog of more than 1,000 habeas cases now pending in Connecticut’s system is not only unnecessarily costly and often painful for victims and their families, but that it is also delaying justice for the wrongly convicted. He told the 2010 General Assembly only 14 of the thousands of habeas petitions filed in the past 18 years have resulted in new trials. But state officials estimate Connecticut is spending more than $6 million a year on prosecutors, public defense lawyers and court costs to review and litigate the 600 habeas petitions being filed annually.Sam Reiger tells us that Inmate 23062 has filed 7or 8 appeals to date…more appeals than in mandated death penalty cases.
- Although there are individual supporters and small underfunded agencies that try to assist, by and large, legislators and those in the Executive branch of government are “lukewarm” at best on crime victim issues, particularly when budgets are in the red. The amount of time spent during legislative hearing and the “protocol” that must be followed for your “3 minutes up at bat” hardly seems worth it. And if you don’t wait all day for your three minutes…they think you’re not interested!
Family Life: Sam was a professor of Chemistry… and returned to work just three weeks after they lost Melanie. But, he did not have the stamina to withstand everything crashing in on his world as he once knew it. The Rieger’s owned and managed a successful travel agency. Wanda told of how she returned two or three months later…with the knowledge that her clients knew of their loss which was very difficult.
The Turning Point: As a mother, Wanda was rightfully so grief-stricken that she could not get out of bed… She wanted to die with her daughter. Finally one day, her Aunt called and asked whether she had a court appearance? (one of many, many to come). Wanda replied, “Yes, but I can’t.” Her Aunt ordered her out of bed, to get dressed and go to court, saying, “Who’s going to represent your daughter?” It was that moment in time, in which Wanda summoned the courage and the resolve to always be present at every court appearance… and to do whatever it took! This is what every mother would do for their children…eventually. Wanda did return to work and although they sold the business, they continue to operate from their home. Sam is retired. Their son, four years older than Melanie, is also a college professor. And then….. there’s the joy of two beautiful granddaughters that make each day worth living!
Why Go the Melanie Ilene Reiger Memorial Conference?
Just a few of many reasons as told by Sam and Wanda:
- The conference brings issues to light which were hidden;
- It offers the victim’s perspective capturing the emotional aspects, the true feelings that are conveyed and the education is imparted;
- The information and stories told “open up the mind” of service providers;
- They present all types of victims – some controversial….. such as David Kaczynski, who returns each year to offer his story as a different kind of victim. The amazing part of David’s ordeal was that he, in fact, turned his brother in to the authorities and never suspected his brother’s activities or degree of mental illness as they were growing up. After David covered his brother’s (Ted Kaczynski’s “The Unabomber”) legal fees of $250,000, he gave the remaining $750,000 reward to victim’s families. Some families were repulsed, others benefitted.
- Sam invited the controversial parents of Casey Anthony and received threats….. Ultimately it did not work out in the end for other reasons…
- Other well-known survivors of crime presenters have included: Denise Brown, Nancy Grace, Marc Klass, Dorothy Moxley, Rachel Lloyd …and many others over the years…;
The Future: When asked if he has hope for the future regarding victims of domestic violence/intimate partner homicide, Sam said there is always hope…. However, recent examples prove again and again that law enforcement and legislators are not paying attention. The effort is not being front loaded toward prevention where it should be…instead we are just “picking up the pieces” of more devastated families.
***Ladyjustice offers this very useful tool to assist in preventing future intimate partner homicides via Susan Murphy Milano’s Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit© and soon to be available Apple App. Go to (http://documenttheabuse.com)
Due to state and federal cuts, this conference has struggled financially. In view of the very reasonable all –inclusive registration fee of $50.00, they gratefully accept monetary donations. For more information go to: http://melanieriegerconference.com/common/
Dr. Samuel L. Rieger
Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Foundation
P.O. Box 368
Watertown, CT 06795
Hope to see you in May!
- Helping the Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference to Soar (donnagore.com)
- SHATTERED LIVES with Donna R. Gore welcomes Sam and Wanda Rieger (imaginepublicity.com)
- Victims Families To Rally Against Death Penalty (connecticut.cbslocal.com)