Victims’ Wish List

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On Saturday, May 9, 2015, it wasn’t a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth” on Shattered Lives Radio– it was “many cooks make the broth” when crime victim advocate put their heads’ together on behalf of the public!

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It was really a “meeting of great minds.”  The groundbreaking show can best be described covering a very unusual parole reversal case, combined with victims’ rights policy and the honoring of a fallen police officer who became the victim of a ruthless homicide.

Toward the end of the show, a “wish list” of sorts was created by guest contributors Attorney and former CT State Victim Advocate, Michelle S. Cruz, CT Survivors of Homicide Advocate, Jessica Norton- Pizzano and Plainville, CT Chief of Police Matt Catania.

“How much time do I have? “was Michelle’s question.

Michelle Cruz’s Ideas for Reform:

  1. Devise a checklist of locations to search for family members (for notification purposes)  based upon their former geographic locations,  employment, other known affiliations, special interests etc.  It is high time that Board of Pardons and Parole and Victim Advocates “think out of the box” in an attempt to reach out in every possible way for this important purpose.  In addition to the usual social media,  I’ll add Ancestry.com as a possibility!
  2. Alter the notification period currently from the standard 35 days to at least six months to a year!  Revolutionary? Yes, but in view of how long it takes for state agencies to do their work and the knowledge that attorneys assisting seldom have the flexibility to alter their calendars in 30 days in the midst of court trials etc, this is a realistic time frame.

As seen in the Robert Holcomb parole hearing, relying on outdated documentation and “not going the extra mile” to locate family members for parole hearings, made for an intolerable situation!

  1. “Put some teeth” into the system In other words,  if any one of the many constitutional rights of a crime victim is violated, no matter the reason or the person committing the violation, build in real consequences! What might those consequences be, you ask? I offer: docking someone’s pay, suspension from work, remuneration to the victim from “the party who failed to act.”

Jessica Norton-Pizzano’s Ideas  (via the CT Victim Rights’ Enforcement Advisory Council )

  1. Create a central place to compile, and display victims’ rights information from all agencies  in all court settings including Survivors of Homicide, (SOH), Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers,  (MADD), Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS), Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), The Office of Victim Services, (OVS) ,and The Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA).  This could include information desks, special kiosks etc.
  2. Establish a long-term notification system , in particular including minor children, as they will be the  future representatives for cases in which parents and other relatives pass on over time.
  3. Utilize the full capacities of SAVIN.  Include another box on the form that would provide for in person notification if the family chooses.  Refer to one of my former blog posts:  The Most Important “Head’s Up EVER! The Victim Information Notification System (VINE)

Police Chief Matt Catania’s Ideas

  1. It is vital to keep the human touch in the process versus relying on “paper and  electronic methods” as we continue to serve victims of crime.

It should be noted that it was Matt’s valiant efforts to unearth the true nature of the injustices done to the Robert Holcomb family, to strategically work collaboratively  and with sensitivity for family members using uncompromising standards so  that  justice was done for both families!

“Nothing can replace the power of human contact and compassion.”  LadyJustice

PLEASE listen to this podcast and share.

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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”

JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

IT’S NEVER COME UP BEFORE

WHAT HAS TRANSPIRED IN 32 YEARS?

Donna R. Gore,LadyJustice

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:Victims 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!

Recommendation:

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:

Donald GoreThe 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:

Parole-Board-300x246All 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

Parole Hearings: A Prisoner’s Gift; A Crime Victim’s Nightmare…

1140xAn open wound that never quite heals…. Submerged memories…Unimaginable loss…. ‘Life altering changes, broken hearts, minds and souls…. Such is the make-up of a person who has been visited by violent crime…

When such a victim puts their trust in the system that is supposed to help them achieve a new normal and a new start at healing, we believe because we are vulnerable, we have no reference point for this series of events…  Our “rudder in life” has been irreparably damaged. To believe the experts at our greatest point of vulnerability and grief…. Is to dance with the devil….  Sometimes…years down the road we learn the true realities concerning what the criminal justice system doles out… Such a reality is being thrust upon Ladyjustice’s family.

998994_363508683772411_403997839_nTo be able to comprehend and navigate such a process is difficult at best when the phone call and/or form letter arrives.  It is invaluable to have the services of a skilled victim advocate, prosecutor, and crime victim rolled into one.  This person is Michelle Cruz.  She knows from whence she speaks… She doesn’t just speak…. she feels a victim’s pain.

During this episode of “Shattered Lives,” Delilah takes over the reigns to interview Ladyjustice and Michelle about this very personal topic…

To listen to the Podcast: CLICK HERE

•       Introduction to guests and topic by Delilah;
•       Introduction to the background of the murder and Ladyjustice’s   decision to become an advocate for her family and other crime victims;
•       An outline of the circumstances…
•       Delilah asks what is the normal process when someone goes through once a victim is notified?
•       Michelle explains the process and the fact that parole hearing are public?
•       Why does he get parole now?   I thought he wasn’t getting out…
•       Delilah brings up the point that victims may not know how or what questions to ask or know how to get the proper information;
•       “The bandaid’s ripped off … it’s not really 50 years served …it’s 26 years;
•       Questions elicited in the process of brainstorming …different for every family;
•       Can a family’s wishes be videotaped for the future…particularly with elderly family members who may not be around for every five year interval;
•       Ladyjustice’s feelings regarding the perpetrator’s responsibility at the parole hearing…
•       Information is power… the process does not have to be as horrific as you think….
•       Creating new ground…thinking out of the box …educating the parole board and future victims;
•       Policy matters and short notice to the victim;
•       Ladyjustice’s information regarding what “lifer’s” typically do… to apply or not to apply for parole;
•       The Connecticut Parole system… If you happen to be a victim whose offender’s hearing is in prison clearance is needed…How would a family know?  The notification falls short…
•       Where is the balance in the system… a discussion about victim -centered system versus otherwise… verbiage versus tangible rights…
•       The Constitutional Rights of Victims..;
•        Factors that come into play…. Limited staffing, lack of knowledge of parole hearings,  being emotionally overwhelmed;  transportation, safety issues etc.
•       Michelle’s offer to send her e-mails to respond to questions and explain the process; Contact Info: 860 415 6529 (MLAW) AttyMichelleSCruz@yahoo.com
•       BOTTOM LINE: Keep asking questions and locate the right person to advocate and explain the process until you understand!
•       “We told the victim this… we had this conversation (“i.e. Don’t ask anymore questions…We’re busy”
•       Explaining the legal concept of “joinder”…extraordinary circumstance in this case… That’s why we’re in the law books!;
•       Explaining concurrent versus consecutive sentences…
•       The old goodtime credit… receiving good time up front; If you don’t behave, good time SHOULD be forfeited;
•       New crimes committed while in prison…to be served consecutive AFTER he gets parole
•       What is good time anyway… back in the day versus good time currently?
•       You can write your name on a list and get goodtime credit;
•       An example of when good time works well- getting a GED;
•       An example when it isn’t effective… “The History of the Philippines” course;
•         Counseling session…enough to rip the bandaid off but not enough to make them successful    Another example..;
•       Programs have the potential of being  equally beneficial  to crime victims  AND prisoners…
•       College courses as an example of being equitable…
•       Victim Compensation…It’s available…. A 2 year limit in CT,       3 years in Mass;  Other considerations for older cases…
•       Is Ladyjustice’s case an unusual case?  Lying to victims about sentencing… a mathematical calculation and changes over time;
•       Earned risk reduction credits 60 days off per year…and the true case of 60 years for murder without good time- the perpetrator’s sentence is a lengthier more true sentence;
•       Discussion of the nature of the prisoner’s crimes in prison…
It’s allowed in this public forum;
•       Discussion of whether the parole board members really care about the victims…
•       Twenty- six years is not enough….  How do victim’s summarize that length of time?
•       Discussion of the importance of having a voice in the process…however you chose to do it- ways to participate;
•       Delilah’s statement regarding the importance of this show and blog to assist others who may have to  go through the process in the future;
•       Ladyjustice’s closing statement and thank-yous;

DonGore

Questions that may be elicited from this podcast:

•       Despite being a knowledgeable advocate, why are there so many questions?
•       What does notification really mean?
•       If your offender committed a crime many years ago, are we notified?
•       What types of questions and needs are important to the victims?
•       What happens if other family members do not want the perpetrator to hear their victim impact statement?
•       Why such short notice for victims?
•       Balance and equity in the system- Where is it?
•       Can we achieve equity in terms of the rights of the perpetrator versus the victim?;
•       Does Michelle advise victims to hire an attorney to represent their interests?
•       Defining terms – concurrent, consecutive, determinant sentencing versus indeterminant; the legal concept of “joinder”?
•       When should joinder be used?
•       ***How does someone receive GOOD TIME when they continue to commit crimes while still in prison?
•       Are programs for prisoners helpful…or not?
•       What are the factors that may contribute to victims not knowing about victim compensation?
•       Promises, promises… What has been the most difficult part of Michelle’s role in her former position?
•       How can a crime victim keep track of the offender’s sentence re parole eligibility date using the DOC website?
•       Are victim’s allowed to know the nature of prisoner’s crimes in prison?
•       What does the parole board expect of the crime victim’s role during the hearing?
•       Why is it so important to be prepared…and what are the reasons for doing a victim impact statement?
•       If the perpetrator has a short sentence is it worth it?

Law offices of Michelle S. Cruz:

860 415 6529 (MLAW) AttyMichelleSCruz@yahoo.com

Parole Hearings:  A Prisoner’s Gift; A Crime Victim’s Nightmare…