Victim Impact Statements- A Tragedy Beginning in Cheshire, Connecticut

 

“If we live 100 years, I don’t think we’ll ever have closure…If closure brings forgetting, I don’t want that closure.” Reverend Richard E. Hawke

 

There is no mistaking the finality of a victim impact statement. In theory, it is supposed to be the culmination of a family member’s most personal heartfelt thoughts by explaining the inexplicable – the physical, emotional and psychological void experienced.  However, when you consider the extreme vulnerability of a new crime victim, desperately hanging on by threads, it is hard to conceive that any salient, cohesive thoughts are possible.

A person’s ability to craft a statement does not really equate with the seriousness of the crime, for every crime is a serious personal violation. How a crime is perceived and dealt with is truly individual.  We might assume that certain professions (law enforcement, physicians, clergy, social workers) would expose and adequately  prepare these professionals for their own  tragedies. But,  it ain’t necessarily so….   When violent crime happens to you or yours, theories and platitudes often seem hollow.

Consider the example of the Reverend Richard E. Hawke, the father and grandfather of  Jennifer Hawke Petit, Hayley and Michaela Petit. All four members of the Petit family were the victims of one of the most horrendous crimes imaginable, occurring in Cheshire, CT in July 2007. Two perpetrators stalked, kidnapped, invaded the Petit home , escalating to  rape, murder and arson of all female members.  Dr. William Petit, Jr. narrowly escaped death.

Reverend Hawke’s taped victim impact statement (7 min, 58 secs) following the trial of perpetrator Joshua Komisarjevsky, was heartfelt and delivered with dignity. This defeated man spoke in measured tones, truly appealing to the perpetrator, trying to relate a teaching  message to this monster killer.  Did his words somehow penetrate JK’s evil existence?

Grace Under Fire

I thought it remarkable that Reverend Hawke apologized for not being at the sentencing in person and wanted this murderer to get acquainted with them.  As you will hear in the following video, Reverend Hawke spoke of his 55 year career as a Pastor, participation in all kinds of funerals, describing cherished family memories and lost future opportunities Clearly the most difficult experience of one’s life is to bury younger family members far earlier than would be expected.  He related  how and why they endured 131 days with two trials, Reverend Hawke spoke kindly of the perpetrator’s family, the unreimbursable costs preventing more in person participation and the disrespect of the defense team and media, calling them the “Petit Posse.”  Reverend Hawke stated that if his deceased family members could endure  the pain they were subjected to, they too could endure the pain of the two trials on their behalf. This impressive man of God, ended his statement with scripture for his family and regarding the perpetrator.  

Richard Hawke Victim Impact Statement 2012 from Deborrah Glenn-Long on Vimeo.

Sadly, Reverend Hawke passed away suddenly at the age of 84 at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on June 25, 2016. Regardless of any medical issues, I’m sure he also died with a broken heart.  Reverend Hawke was from Pennsylvania and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps., serving as a chaplain’s assistant in the early 1950’s.  He returned to Grove City College and worked as a student minister at area churches. He married his wife Maybelle, a registered nurse in 1953).   Subsequently he attended Drew Theological Seminary , earning a M. Div and was ordained in 1959. He was named the United Methodist Churches’ Pittsburg District Superintendent in 1978 with several other pastoral assignments in  Pennsylvania until his retirement in 1994.  In addition to his daughter, Jennifer and Cynthia Hawke Renn, he had four grandchildren prior to the 2007 homicides.

A Reverend is used to writing weekly sermons and using inspiring language…and yet Reverend Hawke freely admitted that he struggled for words with this very important task.

Such is the reality of composing a victim impact statement.

One of the options available is to videotape and use the VI Statement as a lasting record of a family member’s wishes over time, such as the video portrayed by Reverend Hawke.

This key role is the one opportunity families have to present a united voice and true picture of their loved one during the judicial process. It is not something to be scribbled on the back of a napkin in haste. Rather, it is better to seek the services of a skilled writer and someone who has encountered a similar experience.

How can the task be made easier?  The burden can be lifted by acquiring assistance from a homicide survivor and advocate with over three decades of experience.  Should you seek assistance, with sufficient advanced notice and a minimal monetary investment, contact me at this 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

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

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

 

 

In the End: My Second Victim Impact Statement

tilting the scales of justice, David LaBahn, Shattered Lives, Donna R. Gore, LadyJustice

LadyJustice prevails!

                

April 24th, 2013 – A Lifetime Between Victim Impact Statements

One need only to read a sampling of my voluminous collection of blogs, 400 since 2010, mostly on various topics of crime, to know what I had learned in the intervening years since my initial victim impact statement. Read Part I In the Beginning…..for a synopsis of my experience.

I will list just some of the important differences  in the timing and circumstances that served to shape this second experience of victim impact statement delivery:

  • During the first reading, I truly felt that I was a crime victim whereas I was definitely a survivor of crime during the second opportunity.
  • I had the benefit of many years of experience with other families and the fine legal and advocacy counsel of Michelle S. Cruz
  • I had the benefit of time, which shapes a different perspective, different priorities
  • The impact statement was delivered in a different setting to a team of people as parole hearing officers versus a judge
  • We were able to “have my Father present visually” with custom made photos on easels contributed much to  present the murder victim as a true human being.
  • Several additional family members were present in the tiny room to provide their own statements and support
  • There was the presence of TV monitors with the perpetrator participating from prison and his father in another location with several of us crammed into a tiny hearing room. We looked for any sign of recognition or remorse … There was none.
  • I was so very proud of my mother, in particular,  who had  sacrificed so much and tearfully  delivered her statement with strength and courage
  • The fact that the perpetrator should never have been eligible for parole with additional evidence of serious violence while incarcerated  coming to light, served to motivate us to do our very best to eliminate the possibility of freedom
  • We were able to do a podcast preparing for a victim impact statement – both before and after the fact regarding the outcome  which  provided tremendous validation that we were on top of our game regarding victim’s rights versus those in charge
  • There were innumerable failures to inquire, educate and assist by the assigned parole victim advocate, and a near cancellation due to lack of the required parole officials, served to fuel the fire for justice
  • The fact that we were not initially afforded anonymity, nor our rights as  crime
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    Attorney Michelle S. Cruz

    victims. It was only with herculean effort and skill by Atty. Michelle S. Cruz that we accomplished that and more!

  • Ironically, our hearing was scheduled during National Crime Victim’s Rights Week (Pre-determined by God, no doubt)

It’s all about Style Content and Delivery, Man! 

My Second Victim Impact Statement was longer, bolder, expansive in content,  well written and truly painted a complete picture. For example, I asked for all the time I needed, I skillfully prepared packets of information about my father and a sampling of blogs I had written. I posed questions to the hearing officers, challenging them, but respectfully asking for answers (I received no answers, no communications directly or indirectly from anyone affiliated with the Parole Board. 

The main focus of my statement was to literally provide powerful images I had never forgotten all of these years. Rather than list the usual life milestones my father missed, I detailed accomplishments of which he would be most proud.  I painted an accurate portrait of the pathetic, unremorseful, indifferent career criminal before us, who didn’t know us from Adam and whose attorneys had not bothered to sufficiently prepare.  I recommended what I thought would be a just outcome.

Finally, I ended with, “There are only two ways to look at the future, with fear or hope. I chose hope for all survivors of crime. I refuse to be a victim, but am proud to be as survivor.”

To read the complete version of my Parole Board Victim Impact statement CLICK HERE My detailed report of that day and what transpired is included in this former blog post: Justice and Accountability.

VIGraphic.001

Donna Gore created a service program for crime victims and offers her assistance in creating a cohesive victim impact statement tailored to the individuals and their cases. If you need her assistance, or would like to consult with her, she can be reached at ladyjusticedonna@gmail.com

*Donna only accepts cases from families of homicide victims, as that is her area of expertise. She does not work in the field of intimate partner violence and cases concerning divorce or custody issues. 

 

 In the Beginning: My 1987 Victim Impact Statement

Donna R. Gore

It had already been what most people would consider a long-suffering life by the time I had reached my 26th year, just out of graduate school and embark upon my first professional, paid job. There had been years of physical therapy, surgeries of two major types, hospital admissions so frequent, they became a “way of life”, speech therapy and discrimination in higher education saying, “I had too many disabilities to succeed.”

In reality, I did not consider it long-suffering, it was just routine when I was going through it as a child, something I had to do to maintain. I was resilient and had strong parents, grandmothers, and neighbors to get me through!

Then homicide happened. To say it was life altering was an understatement of mass proportion. But, fast forward to 6.5 years later after “baptism by fire” regarding the criminal justice system, the lack of resources for victims in 1981, the promise that the head detective should never have made, disillusionment, so many questions, few answers and so many mistakes made with the case to be revealed later on.

However, within that mix, there was also a rebirth of sorts of this disability and LGBT advocate. In a strange sort of way I had found a true calling, another way to assist others. My intellectual curiosity was peaked forever. I became a standout member of Survivors of Homicide, Inc. in Connecticut. We were honing our voices on behalf of others at a time when crime victim advocacy was in its infancy. There was lots of planning, planning, planning, coupled with support meetings, creating awareness and numerous media appearances, and events, including volunteer court escorting with new families, and a fundraising golf tournament, just to scratch the surface of our many years of intense dedication.

In the process of obtaining justice we had to wait, not so patiently, for 6 1/2 years for our voice to be heard as this former drug dealer and multiple murderer was busy with the judicial process regarding other charges.

Don Gore

My father, Donald Gore

At times, the wait was intolerable, but there was no getting around it. There were other surprises to come, for instance, the use of joinder (essentially stringing two cases together that have like elements and defendants in order to make an ultimately stronger case when one is lacking sufficient evidence to convict  with one jury.) During that time, I cut my teeth on the hard truths and tried to assist others as my means of coping.

The trial lasted three weeks. Summoning our courage, trying to keep our emotions in check, my mother and I separately delivered our first victim impact statement.

Looking back on it now, I could have said a lot more. I could have said it differently and maybe better. I could have painted a more holistic picture. That would come years later with time, experience, and thousands of additional words as a writer, and now published author.

I offer the original here as a brief testimonial from the heart. Stay tuned for the second victim impact statement in a forthcoming blog!

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT

Re Victim Donald W. Gore 

Written by Eldest Daughter- Donna R. Gore

I’d like to thank you for this opportunity; one that I doubted would ever come to be until a few months ago. 

It is difficult to explain the impact of my father’s death in a few short minutes. No words could do justice to his life or his memory. My father made mistakes in his life as every human being on this earth. However, he was not on trial and the good he did far outweighed the bad. His strong belief in the work ethic, responsibility to family, and providing for those less fortunate, some former employees who needed a job, a meal money, clothes…he was there to provide. 

He was also there when I was in need of 50 surgical procedures throughout my childhood-a time in which both of my parents made many sacrifices so that I might have a better healthier quality of life.

We have been deprived of a father, a parent and all that the role implies. But, just as importantly, my father has been deprived too. He has been deprived of the opportunity of seeing the achievements his family and friends have and will make; deprived of observing success as he measured it – financial security, a comfortable lifestyle, education, career, the possibility of marriage for his children and grandchildren. All that and more has been taken away or curtailed and often replaced with much struggle and pain especially for my mother and grandmother due to his needless death. The most sincere statement I can make is to say I miss him and always will. 

It is clear to me that Perry Lee Herring is the ultimate failure in society. This multiple offender has proven time and time again that he has total disregard for human life; that he cannot be rehabilitated. Why else would he randomly fire four bullets into an unsuspecting unarmed person? Was it all for a few dollars? It doesn’t make sense and it never will.

I would ask that when you pass sentence, you consider my father’s death as a very real loss for a number of people and that you consider the multitude of crimes this person has committed. I would ask if his life must be spared, that he be incarcerated for the rest of his life in a maximum security prison with no possibility of earning “good time.” Although no action you could take will return my father to us, imposing such a sentence will give us some peace of mind of which we have deprived for six and a half years. 

Thank you for your Consideration

Sincerely,

Donna R. Gore

6-30-1987