Paying the Price Over and Over: Still More Victimization for Crime Victims!  

 

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Once upon a time there was a crime victim advocate who received a mysterious message from a State’s Attorney via her website. Ahh, yes, it was me.  With considerable trepidation I listened to the message which concerned a very high profile Connecticut case of long ago that had international press that stretched from West Hartford, to Israel and Mexico, and even the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted” several times!

Background

This case was one in which I was personally invested beginning in the 80’s. I had bonded with the matriarch of the family with whom I attended support meetings. I was there as a court escort during every ghastly minute of the trial and sentencing to try to educate and support the family.   In later years, I did a radio podcast with this wonderful woman who conveyed her ordeal after a 23 year wait for justice and after having survived many additional  family tragedies. This elderly lady was resilience plus!

We would touch base every so often and, admittedly, we have not been in touch for a long time.

It is so hard to know when someone in their 70’s, 80’s or nearly 90 wants to “put it all away,” like sealing an envelope, locking the door and moving on forever, however, not at peace, their heart remains.  This becomes the moral question when you are faced with a choice.

The Conversation

The attorney was a post conviction attorney and was in charge of representing the victim’s family in still another judicial hearing. The murderer was now requesting an appeal on the basis of ineffective counsel. All of the rules and procedures of ineffective counsel appeals are complex and speaks primarily to the plight of indigent clients. 

However, in this case, the defendant was anything but poor, with a wealthy family able to hide him out for years in other countries undetected! Although money talks, the attorney told me that these appeals are seldom successful.

The Shocker

I was contacted as the attorney was scrounging around the internet to try to find contact information for the victim’s family.

What?? How could this be?  

Was it because the attorney newly assigned attorney didn’t have access to the original case file? Was it because there was such a huge timeline from the initial crime convictions, years on the lamb, and actual capture and family members are now not able to be accessed?

This was a HUGE case with the FBI and the murderer being one of the most sought after criminals in history! Apparently, they don’t keep track of family once their job is done!

No, No, No… The real reason was that all of the funds in post conviction Connecticut cases currently have to be put into the judicial process. That means there are no investigators to assist and no victim advocates to notify victim families!  No funds whatsoever on the victim side of the equation such that an attorney is relegated to doing his own internet searches and being as creative as possible to get the job done.

As a homicide survivor from Connecticut I am horrified! How many other post conviction cases are there with absolutely no victim services for investigation and the all important notification?

(The actual timeline spanned from the date of the murder in March 1987 to July of 2011 when the evil perpetrator was finally escorted to prison in Connecticut  to begin serving his 60 year sentence.)

The Request and Follow-Up

Can I contact the victim’s family and notify them that this proceeding is taking place soon and provide contact information to the attorney?  There was another option of a former  retired investigator assisting.

I  was truly torn.  To receive a communication out the the blue, involving this family who has gone through so much already. In addition, I did not know how my very elderly friend’s health could withstand such news or whether she had any interest at all to disrupt her life yet again! And wait a minute – It is the responsibility of the State of Connecticut and affiliated Victim Services to provide notification and follow up support!

I tried to research and locate an older family sibling in and out of Connecticut and made calls, but was unsuccessful in reaching the correct person.  

I then decided to check out the situation further and went to the West Hartford Police to speak to a detective. The young detective listened and agreed to check on the veracity and the circumstances, which he verified with a follow up call to me. However, it was clear that they were still putting the ball in my court.

I still did not feel comfortable calling this family’s matriarch after so many months to deliver such news! It didn’t feel right.  I think I was correct. This is why… In July 2011 the perpetrator’s sentence was disposed and he was ordered to begin his long overdue sentence in a secure facility.

At this proceeding, the following were Addie’s words-

I’m not here to see Adam Zachs. My family is not here to see Adam Zachs. I’m here to support some of the people [who captured Zachs] – the West Hartford police, the U.S. marshals. They were relentless.”

“The reason I don’t want to see Adam again is I’ve had enough of the Zachs family,” Carone said. “Three weeks at the trial they looked at us with hate in their eyes and their faces, anger at us, and arrogance. No words of any kindness or sympathy. Shame on the entire family. I will never, never forgive that family.”

Parting Thoughts

What has our criminal justice system become when there are absolutely no funds to notify victims of still more turmoil in a scenario that has dragged on for years and years? How many more families are affected by this situation?  Why are survivors of crime a mere afterthought in such cases?

There is no doubt that this murderer was guilty and that thousands, maybe millions of dollars were expended in investigating and trying to capture this worthless human being- a person with no conscience and was all about privilege to get through life?

This is the responsibility of our State as a matter of public safety and our Constitutional Victim’s Rights. We must inform  in a timely matter with sensitivity, the perils of crime -wounds that never seem to heal.

References-

https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/criminal_justice_section_newsletter/crimjust_cjmag_24_3_primus.authcheckdam.pdf

https://patch.com/connecticut/westhartford/convicted-killer-zachs-taken-away-to-prison

https://patch.com/connecticut/westhartford/convicted-killer-zachs-taken-away-to-prison


DonnaGore-2To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

You can find me here, please follow or friend! Facebook,  Shattered Lives,  Twitter, LinkedIn

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Crime Victimization: It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over

 

 crime victim

 

I have come to realize that working with other crime victims is never  a “one and done proposition” when you have invested with your heart as well as your other skills.

Getting Ready

In the beginning, you have a specific assignment, your procedures, your time frame, your technical assistance waiting in the wings, your  “cut to the chase priorities” if needed.

You anticipate need, you craft questions and ways to elicit information that are most helpful. You know how to interview and you have learned that listening to both what is said and not said are equally important. You underestimate your time when time is the most precious commodity.

Changing your Mindset

Sometimes as professionals, (whether paid or unpaid) we sell ourselves short, for we may think that these vulnerable people who have joined the “victim of violent club”  entered kicking and screaming just like us, oh so long ago. As seasoned victim advocates, we must clear out the cobwebs and put ourselves in their role again, not a comfortable position.  However, your pain must be dredged up, now to be used as a teaching tool for others. You must set your personal opinions aside and be the victim, apart from the horrendous crime.  You must comfort, carefully  sprinkling realism on what they may think or may learn from television or  biased media reports.

Ready, Set, Go-Maybe…

You are providing a service ready to go on specified date, but alas, keep in mind that your “colleague in crime” may be grief-stricken, not able to communicate, organize thoughts, not able to go to work, rise from bed on that day, answer e-mails or phone calls. If they can’t face the world today, they can’t be ready for you. You must be prepared. You walk that delicate balance of providing a sense of hope that they will make it through. Although their lives are irreparably changed forever, someday something positive will blossom in their lives because of, in spite o,f the awful event that took their loved one from this earth.  However, you must not make promises you can’t keep.  

The Judicial System

When dealing with the judicial system, they must be prepared that weak evidence, lack of evidence, contradictory evidence ,circumstantial evidence and lack of DNA (the “magic bullet” can all be part of the uncertainty for the jury and hence, reasonable doubt. No matter how much you love your  family member  and present a fair and balanced picture to the court,  the defense can and does readily put the victim on trial, exposing all matter of skeletons in one’s closet!  If the victim was complicit in the crime, not an innocent victim by legal standards, or if  mitigating factors are present (any information or evidence presented to the court regarding the defendant or the circumstances of the crime that might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence). This includes the very real possibility of a plea bargain-deal.

The Brand New Victim

Is not resilient, cannot anticipate, frequently has few people with whom to compare notes. When discussing their cases with family members (who are often at different places emotionally) more questions than answers are generated, with few if any timely answers. They are resentful, depressed, very angry and so very disillusioned.

The Seasoned Victim Advocate Providing a Service

Provides a lifeline; a yardstick against which to measure the starts and stops, ebb and flow of the process. But most importantly, when hearts ans souls are involved, it is NOT a “One and done”, ‘Bye, see ya’, “Have a nice life.”  How can it possibly be so when you are spiritually kindred souls? A valuable connection has been made when a new crime victim puts their trust in you to “paint the true picture” of their precious loved one.  Afterall, isn’t that that way life should be?  

You hope for a connection that will last.  Even if it cannot be for whatever reason, you know in your heart of hearts, you truly have made a difference and are with them spiritually when they deliver their customized victim impact statement in the mahogany laden room where they hope justice will prevail! This is one of the most difficult chapters. But truly, it will never “be over” for a crime victim.   he fat lady of the opera never sings…. However, victims  can and do evolve from victimization to survivor, and sometimes, a thriver- all very important distinctions!

For assistance with creating customized Victim Impact Statements for families experiencing homicide with sufficient preparation time, see the following link-  https://donnagore.com/victim-impact-statement-assistance/ 


Donna R. Gore

To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

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Justice Denied: Political Influence Taints Two Connecticut Families Forever

 

“Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.” Sam Levenson

More twists and turns than any case one can remember, this 2004 Connecticut criminal case, followed by a civil  case, followed by still another criminal case is jaw dropping in the totality of events. The tale of Neil Esposito and Heather Specyalski could very well rival the events of the Monica Lewinski affair and top any of the offerings on the Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil shows.

What occurs when the people involved are affluent? What happens when they have political influence with a former Governor and had contributed to campaigns and other philanthropic endeavors? What is the price to be paid when medical examiners and world-class pathologists can be bought and state police doubted?

Is it right for state employees to interfere with the judicial process by “picking up the phone and exerting pressure?”  What occurs when the reason for the death involves irresponsible, dangerous and X rated behavior? What is the consequence when the survivor suffers life threatening injuries and is never the same?  

Should the victim be memorialized with taxpayers dollars signed off by the legislature after having contributed to his own death? In a final chapter, what would today’s public say when the defendant is accused of another crime of a relative, which truly ended in a suicide?   

My blog will attempt to hit the highlights and lowlights of this very complex scenario.

Case Background:

The defendant, a girlfriend, model, and divorced mother was 29 years old. Her boyfriend, affluent trash hauler, entrepreneur, Neil Esposito, 42 years old. They had been to a Halloween gala, imbibed too much and used very bad judgement that would be written in Connecticut law journals forever!

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, October  31, 1999, they were cruising at 120 mph down Route 9, driving north, taking the I-91 exit when someone lost control of the car, police said. The car went off the road and into the woods, striking several trees before overturning. Neither driver nor passenger were wearing seatbelts and had been drinking.

The crux of the criminal case rested on who was driving.  Mr. Esposito was the recipient of oral sex as they were traveling down the highway!!

Initially the Connecticut State Police ruled in it’s investigation that Mr. Esposito was driving during “the act.” In the meantime, two lawsuits were underway, charging damages to the Mercedes Benz Corporation by Neil’s father, Raymond. The second suit was brought by Specyalski to Esposito’s estate  in 2000, claiming he was the driver. (She had significant life threatening injuries).

Ms. Specyalski was to stand trial for manslaughter. Two weeks after the estate lawsuit, police reversed their findings regarding who was driving.

The 2004 criminal trial lasted 19 days in which Heather Specyalski was charged  with  manslaughter. The State Police initial investigation ruled that Neil Esposito was driving, due to the position of the body, his clothing and other factors.  In addition, the testimony of an expert witness stated that the gash on the outside of Specyalski’s left thigh could only have been caused by the gear shift on the car’s center console — an injury she could not have gotten if she were in the driver’s seat. The outcome was an hour deliberation and an acquittal, sparing her a 25 year prison sentence.

Father, Raymond Esposito, exerted his influence on a Governor Rowland assistant. A phone call was made to Dr. Henry Lee and (Voila!) the case was magically re-opened due to inconsistencies.

More fall out of the professional kind-First, Arkady Katsnelson, was an associate medical examiner who was proven to have been the recipient of a bribe amounting to $300.00 for advice regarding the civil lawsuit against Heather Specyalski.  Secondly,  while awaiting the civil trial, renowned pathologist Cyril Wecht was supposed to testify that Neil Esposito was in the passenger seat. However,  he was prohibited from testifying due to an 84-count federal indictment issued in Pennsylvania in January 2006, charging him with allegedly using government resources to benefit his practice.

Newspaper accounts state that the defense team for Hether Specyalski claim the oral sex rarely surfaced during the trial, but prosecutors seized on the silacial, as it was an element to create reasonable doubt. Whereas in a civil trial, it’s about the preponderance of evidence presented.

The civil wrongful death lawsuit by Raymond Esposito against Heather Specyalski was abruptly withdrawn and a settlement was reached just minutes before the start of the proceedings in January 2006. The senior Esposito and his wife spent much time and effort trying to protect the assets and endeavors of Neil Esposito. They were crushed with grief.

When the litigation was over, Heather Specyalski said from Waterbury Superior Court, It’s over!” Her father tried to hush her, but she wouldn’t be quieted. Finally, she’d be able to be herself, do as she pleased. She could plan for tomorrow. Her plan was to buy a lot in Ashford, CT  and build a house by the pond for herself and her son.

No, It’s Wasn’t Over!

Heather Specyalski

On March 13, 2013 Specyalski was on  trial on a manslaughter charge and fighting to stay out of prison with a potential maximum sentence of 46 years. These charges  involved  the overdose death of her son, 15-year-old Brandon Specyalski, who died at his mother’s home in August of 2008 from a combination of alcohol and drugs.

She was charged with negligent homicide, tampering with evidence, and three counts of risk of injury to a minor.  Prosecutors said she caused Brandon’s death because she bought him and his friends alcohol the night of Aug. 23 and allowed Brandon to take her prescription drugs. However, she stated she went to the store to purchase snacks, brought him a blanket and pillow as he was sleeping in the back seat of the car and that he took prescription drugs from her purse, unbeknownst to her, thus committing suicide.

Ultimately, Heather was acquitted again!  On March 21, 2013, she looked up at the jury and cried.  She later stated, “Freedom is the most amazing thing until it’s threatened.”

PostScript –

Hartford lawyer Richard R. Brown, a former state prosecutor speaking about the 2004 criminal trial  said he would have terminated the case after both troopers testified. “These were two troopers who sincerely believed what they were saying,” Brown said. “It’s a tie, and a tie always goes to the defense.”

Neil Esposito’s son, Raymond Esposito, 15 at the time of Neil’s death, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 1996. Neil created the Raynbow Foundation and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to find a cure for the disease.  Prior to his death, Neal  was in the process of planning a New Year’s Eve gala for hundreds at the Hartford Armory to raise money for the foundation, which his friends pledged to continue.

Heather’s resulting medical injuries began with a coma, (often a protective state for healing), numerous surgeries including gall bladder, kidney, bladder staph infections, hip problems, with use of a wheelchair as needed. She was able to resume walking  and driving in 2008.

In the year 2000, the Connecticut legislature voted to name one of the hundreds of bridges after Neil Esposito. A small green reflective sign seen by commuters daily on Interstate 91 North in Wethersfield, CT.

Helen Ubinas, former ace reporter for the Hartford Courant, interviewed Ann and Raymond Esposito in the aftermath of their son’s death and their considerable efforts to do what they could to preserve this name, waging many legal battles. In a January 26, 2006 article, Anne told Helen she would visit her son at the cemetery and tell him, “I hope it ended the way he would have wanted,”  Helen then asked  them?  “Did it end the way you and your husband wanted? Are they really satisfied?” Anne looked down and said, ”The lawyers tell us to say we are.”

Conclusion

There was so much damage done to so many family members in this case. What occurred overshadows the good about fallible people. Even James Dean would have to say, fast cars and fast women aren’t worth it in the end. Temptation can be evil, or your entry card to heaven.

References https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/temptation.html

http://articles.courant.com/2004-04-30/news/0404300842_1_quick-verdict-criminal-case-reasonable-doubt

http://articles.courant.com/1999-10-31/news/9910310062_1_greater-hartford-juvenile-diabetes-research-hauler

http://articles.courant.com/2004-04-30/news/0404300842_1_quick-verdict-criminal-case-reasonable-doubt

http://articles.courant.com/2006-01-25/news/0601250701_1_esposito-family-family-s-lawyers-superior-court

http://articles.courant.com/2006-01-26/news/0601260932_1_son-s-death-court-date-neil-esposito

http://starkravingviking.blogspot.com/2006/01/blow-job-governor-and-states-police.html

http://articles.courant.com/2008-12-23/community/hc-specyalski1223.artdec23_1_heather-specyalski-specyalski-home-neil-esposito


DonnaGore-2

To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

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Things the Media and Public Don’t Know about Crime Victims

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In the very beginning when you suddenly become the victim of a violent crime, it is a bit like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. Nothing fits. It’s foreign and uncomfortable. You don’t know where to turn. You think the police, the detectives, the prosecutor will make your case the highest priority. You are ambivalent about media coverage, for you want everyone to know balanced against your need to maintain privacy. What you don’t know can hurt you. My former blog,  “A New Normal” explains further. 

Although each case is unique in it’s own way, each has commonalities.  There are no “Hints from Heloise” or a 2017 version by Emily Post’s great, great granddaughter “How to Act Around a Crime Victim.” There really should be a guide to be scoffed up by the public with each and every violence act which is becoming part of our new reality- whether crazed and disgruntled or terrorist. We need practical tools!

In the absence of such a guide that fits most criminal acts, some things are obvious, but often blatantly ignored by the media and a public who gleans its information from television.

A short laundry list of do’s and don’ts 

  • Should the media pick up a story on a wire service or social media, due diligence and care should be taken to ensure that law enforcement has made contact with and notified the family prior to releasing information to the public. As we know, particularly with the introduction of social media and our current President’s penchant to Tweet, is it nearly impossible to maintain that “respectable distance, as the lives of a crime victim’s family  are changing forever? I think that effort and respect must be shown, first and foremost!  As a family member who learned of my father’s death via a newspaper article, the horror of learning in this manner was indescribable!   
  • Do not focus your entire story on the violent act and never or barely mention that there are victims, fatalities and those injured.  This is HUGELY IMPORTANT to families who are shocked and offended that their beloved family member gets virtually no coverage whatsoever for the sake of “selling the news.” Although we understand that a victim’s identity cannot be released initially, good journalists do not have to depend upon sensationalism to grab attention;
  • The victim’s frailties, demons, or  mistakes should not define the story and color public perception. Should it be that after a thorough investigation, the victim’s  lifestyle or habits did indeed contribute to the end, so be it. But, it does the surviving family no favors to dwell on that aspect of the person’s life;
  • Do we even need to say, it, Get the facts correct before you publish? Even simple things such as misidentifying a victim by name (as happened with us on local news) can be very disrespectful, If your media  boss is the “get it at any cost,” leave and find another employer with integrity;
  • Don’t spontaneously run up to a distraught victim in a public setting with your phone, microphone or camera and say, “How do you feel? This is a moronic question.  Don’t expect family members to say anything that will adequately convey their feelings. It is intrusive!  Rather, it would be better to quietly seek out an approved family representative who may give an approved statement such that  it does not compromise the investigation.

Family should be counseled to not provide extemporaneous statements to the press just because…

  • Law enforcement attorneys, TV personalities and reporters all engage in this one-No matter where a case is in the span of time, never say that the family is looking for “closure.” Closure implies a finality to homicide. In fact, finality is never truly possible, as lives are irreparably changed and families pass into a different phase of coping.Rather, a more accurate way to describe this process is one of resolution, no matter if the outcome is positive or tragic.
  • Never ask a crime victim, Is it time to move on with your life? Even if a person is stuck in their grief, such a comment implies that their loved one is no longer worthy of public attention!  If family members appear to be passionate in their quest by becoming an advocate for others, recruiting help for their case, doing research on their own, focusing on publicizing the case or holding events to increase awareness, this should not be viewed as “an obsession ” In fact, it can be quite the opposite – Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.
  • If you are a media representative or a concerned family member, do consult with a professional counselor trained in dealing with trauma if you are going to be interacting with victims. In addition, seek out the help of a good support group facilitator for homicide survivors. I highly recommend Connecticut based-Survivors of Homicide.

 

Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”

(Mary) Elizabeth Edwards, former attorney, health care advocate, wife of NC Senator John Edwards, who died from breast cancer in December, 2010.

 

Referenceshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_growth

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/resilience.html

https://donnagore.com/2011/01/01/history-can-only-be-written-by-the-survivors/

https://donnagore.com/2015/03/13/a-new-normal/


DonnaGore-2

To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

You can find me here, please follow or friend! Facebook,  Shattered Lives,  Twitter, LinkedIn