“IT’S NEVER COME UP BEFORE”
WHAT HAS TRANSPIRED IN 32 YEARS?
WARNING! Just because something is documented on paper…does not necessarily mean that it will be attended to, embraced philosophically or implemented correctly or incorrectly…
Such is the case with Federal Constitutional Rights and state’s rights passed in nearly all 50 states for victims of violent crime. Thirty two years ago, with few crime victims’ rights and very limited victim services, the awareness began after President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, and realized there was no system to care for crime victims. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was created. In 1982, the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime produced a Final Report and 68 recommendations that provided the foundation for victims’ rights and services in years to come; Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice established in 1983.
The focus was treating victims with dignity and respect, implement their rights under law, and educate the public about the impact of to improve our nation’s law enforcement, criminal justice and community response to offenses that, previously, were considered merely “family matters.” Without the vision and leadership of President Reagan, there would be NO:
- National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which provided strong incentives to states to raise their minimum drinking age to 21 – the national law today.
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that was established by President Reagan in 1984.
- Victim/witness programs within all U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
- National Child Safety Partnership with 26 member organizations to enhance private sector efforts to
- promote child safety and public awareness of child abuse;
- Greatly needed public attention and funding to victims of crime in Indian Country.
State of Connecticut Constitution Article XXIX – Rights of Victims of Crime
- In all criminal prosecutions, a victim, as the general assembly may define by law, shall have the following rights:
- The right to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process;
- The right to timely disposition of the case following arrest of the accused, provided no right of the accused is abridged;
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process;
- The right to notification of court proceedings;
- The right to attend the trial and all other court proceedings the accused has the right to attend, unless such person is to testify and the court determines that such person’s testimony would be materially affected if such person hears other testimony;
- The right to communicate with the prosecution;
- The right to object to or support any plea agreement entered into by the accused and the prosecution and to make a statement to the court prior to the acceptance by the court of the plea of guilty or nolo contendere by the accused (i.e. A plea made by the defendant in a criminal action that is substantially but not technically an admission of guilt and subjects the defendant to punishment but permits denial of the alleged facts in other proceedings.);
- The right to make a statement to the court at sentencing;
- The right to restitution which shall be enforceable in the same manner as any other cause of action or as otherwise provided by law;
- The right to information about the arrest, conviction, sentence, imprisonment and release of the accused.
This information would lead one to believe that these rights are well known to the law enforcement community, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys parole board officials and all crime victim advocates….Ladyjustice is here to say… if they know the information…they are NOT being put into practice. What have all of these people been doing for 32 years? As we learned this week, it appears quantitatively and qualitatively… next to nothing… Government judicial agencies have procedures to guide them. The State of Connecticut has reams of Freedom of Information regulations which prisoners have access to… In fact, our state serves as the model with the distinction of the most complex, “bend over backwards” body in the nation re FOI.
We learned that any documents within a prisoner’s file (or information re the crime victim’s family) housed at the pardons and parole facility or DOC is in fact public information. Rather, some information is “protected” if it is sent to the Office of Victim Services.
Ladyjustice’s family was forced to endure the prisoner’s right to apply for parole, regardless of the heinousness of his felonious crimes and appear before the Board of Pardons and Parole with two to four weeks notice maximum …. Notification is still a blur …[Refer to “Shattered Lives” episode “Parole Hearings – A Prisoner’s Gift, A Crime Victim’s Nightmare” https://donnagore.com/2013/04/14/parole-hearings-a-prisoners-gift-a-crime-victims-nightmare/
Summary of Events Before the Hearing
OMG! Welcome to my Nightmare… What do we do now?
Receipt of Notification by phone and a form letter… a million questions came to mind… Ladyjustice was put on hold many times, as the assigned advocate appeared to be unsure of the answers; Research, research, research In order to prepare, you want to find out details of the inmate’s former crimes and activities, via judicial internet sources. KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS up the chain of command until you receive satisfactory answers and know your rights (Above) Accountability! WHY?? In the considerable intervening years of incarceration, laws may have chained, memories fade “facts” are really “half truths” etc…
The Reality (Advice) If you get stonewalled and cannot get adequate information, it is vital that you secure the services of an experienced advocate and/or attorney who specializes in crime victim rights. Such a person can truly represent your interests, as “the system” is heavily weighted toward the perpetrator. In our personal experience, you do not have to have a million dollars to get adequate assistance; terms are often workable and reasonable, as the focus is on justice and not attorney-advocate’s fees. If all they discuss is money, look for someone else!
What we learned that was new:
The nature and seriousness of the crimes while incarcerated and activities of associates (Attempted murder of correction officers, causing a riot , car theft , the number of “tickets” infractions over the years makes one realize how much in the dark the victim’s family really is)…without an intermediary.
Questions that will typically NOT be answered up front: (Even when you are the legal family representative to be notified) Examples: The number and type of programs the perpetrator has completed; Will his family be attending the hearing or the other families which he murdered/harmed? Is he in good health? Does he have family/community support and an “Exit plan”? If released, in what town will he be residing? May I have protection?
WHY NO answers when you are worried and scared when so much is at stake? Sometimes…it’s due to the DOC Commissioner’s philosophy on prisoner confidentiality; or… It’s never been done or asked before!
What Else To Do In Preparation…. Ladyjustice needed help to organize and relay questions to the correct sources as her mind was “scrambled eggs” during the week following notification. If your intermediary cannot obtain all of the answers, formulate a written list that can be presented with your victim impact statement for presentation. There are no guarantees that they will be addressed…but you have to try…
Incredulously, even basic “creature comforts” were not even considered; Perhaps it was an oversight…perhaps it was a function of the geographic location being substandard. But…we realized that it was a function of “It’s Never Come Up Before…” WHAT???
Examples that applied to us: Location of convenient parking? Accessibility for those who are disabled (as a result of the crime or otherwise); prior notification of the building layout, availability of water, tissues, personal escorts from parking to the building, physical comfort of the waiting and hearing rooms; juxtaposition of the prisoner, hearing officers and family.
Ladyjustice with her physical disability had to park and walk three blocks to the building as adequate parking was not available; A relative had to find quarters and leave to feed a parking meter as there was no parking lot designated for family members. One small packet of tissue was placed in the hearing room and passed from person to person; Bring your own water….
Examples of More Substantive Questions Submitted in Writing By Ladyjustice (Still Waiting)
- Why was he eligible for good time when he attempted to kill correction officers? Was any good time forfeited?
- Is he earning a salary currently? Can his salary be designated to a crime victim compensation fund?
- Can you make available videotaping resources for elderly family members or those who are not up to appearing in person in the future?
- Why can’t crime victim families receive more advanced notice (as compared to the prisoner’s preparation)?
- How will future changes in good time policies impact this inmate? How has this prisoner been occupying his time for 26 years?
- If this prisoner is released to the community, what type of protection will be offered to our family?
The Importance of Photos of Your Loved One:
The parole board has the benefit of a thick file containing the prisoner’s history and activities. They do not have a true picture of the victim, other than the circumstances of the crime. We need to make them come alive for hearing officers and perhaps the perpetrator. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words….” And it did truly help in this case… Note: Businesses such as Kinkos-Fed-Ex does wonders with photos needed for such purposes- lightweight, mounted on foam board with easels and reasonably priced. As we could not get clarification on the size of photos allowed, four sizes were made for about $20.00. They were placed strategically – One facing the parole board members and the other facing the TV monitor – the perpetrator and his family.
We could not come with twelve family members with the expectation that all could make a statement. Rather we presented the information as some family will speak, and others are there for support. The board has the ability to “say no” to family regarding “Too many “speaking at the hearing…even 32 years… Incredible! [The legislature sits for hours at public hearings allowing “ordinary citizens to speak on the record].
A Numbers Game…
Quite by accident, Ladyjustice learned that the usual three hearing officers presiding nearly was going to be two as “one dropped out” causing a potential tie when deciding the outcome, forcing the family to return yet again on another day, forsake vacation days from work and more emotional turmoil.
Ladyjustice could not believe that this was not brought to our attention immediately and INSISTED that a third person be located [with more encouragement and input from Atty. Cruz].As it turns out the third person may have voted for release….. but 2 to 1 is better than 1 to 1.
The perpetrator will be in attendance …sort of…. via videotape. It was learned that as a means of saving transportation costs, he would attend via videotape…as well as his family from another location. Ladyjustice feels that this was a mixed blessing as it would feel even more uncomfortable to sit in the same room with the murderer. It was surreal…. We were “watching TV”a very real “reality TV;”
The Key Concern-The Key Accomplishment:
All crime victims have the constitutional right to be reasonably protected. The perpetrator had an extensive and escalating track record of violent behavior. In fact, the Pardons and Parole Board’s website quotes a major study conducted indicating that such escalation is a strong predictor of further violence in the future.
“History is a strong predictor of future behavior – a pattern of early onset of crime, multiple incarcerations, prior breaches, and criminal versatility is all related to increased likelihood of future crime. Offenders whose crimes increase in severity are of increased concern.”
We were unable to ascertain if the murderer has access to the internet directly or indirectly via “prison pen pal sites” and friends on the outside. Given that this man is extremely dangerous, expressed no true remorse or had no knowledge or interest in the family he severely impacted, we all felt our family and the community was at high risk should he learn our identities. At this juncture, Michelle Cruz, Esquire and former State Constitutional Victim Advocate shone on our behalf…along with the clear objections of Ladyjustice and selected other family members.
The usual method was to enter the hearing room, be required to enter your name on the record, read your impact statement quickly, Hearing officers go into executive session by deciding in a few minutes” shake your hand and …Thank you very much, Goodbye” In fact, thiswasnot to take place. Atty. Cruz and Ladyjustice saw to it by negotiating with the Administrator –Executive Director that our rights had to be considered and we must not be forced to provide our names…. CHANGE BEGINS NOW! An initial compromise was to say our relationship – “widow, eldest child of…” etc. with the caveat that we will have to enter your names on the website.”
NO! Objection, Objection! With more back and forth, back and forth and checking with the Chairman of the Parole Board – (a former police captain in a major city) we would be designated as “Victim #1, #2. ## etc.” Whew!
The incredible part of this scenario was that the victim advocates stated in a matter of fact manner, “This has never come up before” … in 32 years….. Advocates have apparently failed to adequately prepare victims and failed to ensure their safety by statute for all this time…as it has never come up….. WHAT??? Ladyjustice is still trying to process this one day later…. Had we not been pioneers…and made them “sit up and pat attention” before entering the hearing room, LJ shudders to think about the consequences.
Ladyjustice must reiterate that each family member within a unit deals with this situation differently. They are all different in personality, coping styles and tolerance levels. That being said, the majority of members…. “Wanted in over and let’s forget the details.” Ladyjustice and their legal representative were of the mindset…“We need to know everything in order to be prepared”. We were ready and able to take charge….
And we did!
Highlights and Lowlights of the Hearing
Just as in her Impact statement, Ladyjustice began by “painting a picture of “Images that Will Never Leave.”
The same method will be effective here…
Uncomfortable chairs in a small room lined up against the wall; A big screen TV facing the parole board.
The chairman skillfully “running the show” making the perpetrator accountable for his incredible testimony.
“It was an accident. “ (Shooting the victim 4 to 5 times” using a revolver, pulling the trigger each time;
The second murder….” I take responsibility… but I was in New York when it happened. I helped clean it up.”
Why did you kill the victim?
“It was stupid” (Ladyjustice- Like crossing the street without looking?)
Witnessing my nearly 80 yea old mother have the strength and fortitude to give a moving statement and then put her face in her hands and cry uncontrollably;
Witnessing other family members break down and re-gain composure to deliver very impressive accounts regarding how the loss had affected each of them;
Witnessing my Mother “crane her neck” to see if there was any hint of reaction from the perpetrator – several
times… There was NONE!
After “executive session” was over hearing denial of parole…until 2018 – five years from now (yet another chance) because of the heinousness of his crimes AND the true impact of our statements!
Hearing Michelle Cruz, thank us for allowing her to be part of the hearing and assisting us.
No…we owe you a debt of gratitude, Michelle!
Law offices of Michelle S. Cruz:
860 415 6529 (MLAW) AttyMichelleSCruz@yahoo.com
Extraordinary circumstances and what an education! You gave them their wake-up call and I hope it resonates. Congratulations on a victory – for five more years when, I’m sure, you will do it all over again.
[…] Not one to sit on the sidelines and allow things to happen haphazardly, Donna was proactive in finding out everything she needed to know before the date of the parole hearing. With the assistance of Attorney Michelle Cruz, the family learned about several things that would need to be addressed before the day of the hearing and a laundry list of victims’ rights that the majority would not know about, such as concealing their identities. Ironically, the parole hearing was held in the middle of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, a week dedicated nationally to honoring those who have been affected by crime. As all crime victims will attest, the most meaningful actions in the aftermath of crime are justice and accountability. […]
[…] fight for those rights as you encounter resistance. NEVER ASSUME THEY KNOW AND WILL ENFORCE! My personal experience is a prime […]
[…] Justice and Accountability (donnagore.com) […]
[…] been proud last year, as we “fought the good fight” and were victorious in changing several State of Connecticut Victim’s Rights policies with the Board of Pardons and Parole, in addition to influencing the outcome such that the […]