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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At Face Value – A Victim Impact Statement with Heart and Soul

 

(THE CANADIAN PRESS / Russell Jackson)

(THE CANADIAN PRESS / Russell Jackson)

Victim impact statements are heart wrenching no matter what the circumstances. Homicide victims are left to pick up the pieces in much the same manner as any other loss caused by violence and irresponsibility.

Consider a family who has suffered the loss of a beloved family member by the hands of a drunk driver.

Is this a lesser loss when measured against homicide? In general, it is just as devastating with changes in circumstances.  However, until I have walked in their path, I cannot say that my loss is more impactful.  I can say that doing a routine activity like driving a car with equipment weighing a couple of tons needs to be respected at all times.  Some people respect it. Most people take this privilege for granted. Others abuse it terribly resulting in a vastly reduced quality of life (i.e. traumatic brain injury, para or quadriplegia) or death.

When reviewing victim impact statements in DUI cases, I decided to “put the impact to the test.” I purposefully did not read any information about this male whose life was recklessly taken. I wanted to see at face value, if I were to put myself in the judge’s role, how I might feel, and ultimately pass sentence, not as a matter of law, but as a matter of heart.

Within my customized victim impact statement assistance service I stress the importance of painting a complete picture of the victim, as the perpetrator is already well-known.  Typical “fill in the blank” versions often omit information that could be most vital to the family.

Victim Impact Statement for “Nathan M” killed June 5, 2007.

This victim impact statement was authored by his (brother.) At face value, without reviewing any other internet information, I see:

  • Three detailed pages of well written narrative
  • A brother who was extremely close to the victim
  • A person who evaluate person who life from many perspectives
  • A compassionate person who grieves not only for himself, but all family members
  • A person who repeats his words regarding the reckless disregard of the perpetrator
  • A young man who is not afraid to express his vulnerability
  • A writer who pleads for the maximum sentence possible allowed by law (Virginia law – 20 years for involuntary manslaughter)
  • A brother who painfully descries taking on all of the responsibilities associated with the aftermath of death
  • A man who sees the irony in his brother’s life long aspiration to help others by becoming a police officer

Unique Aspects of this Victim Impact Statement

Drawing the listener in, his brother discusses his fear of not returning to the scene of the crime

I live two-and-a-half miles from where Nathan died, and have not traveled that way on Interstate 395 North since he was killed. In the past, I drove that way countless times, but I likely never will drive that route again for the rest of my life.”

With time and courage this may have changed. Would Nathan have wanted such a restriction?

I find it very interesting that the writer talks about mourning the loss his own identity and the resulting shift in the family structure.

I also mourn the loss of my own identity. I now assume the role of the youngest in the family. I don’t want this role. I have been the middle child, and this shift in family structure is unfamiliar and unfair…..I started a new job less than two weeks after Nathan died. I know my friends can tell that I have changed as a person. …. I struggle each day to focus on my work my and to remain motivated to learn how to be the best at my job. I often decline lunch invitations from co-workers and eat lunch at my desk because I don’t feel up to being social with them. These people will never know the happier person I once was. I never will be whole again. I do not deserve to have my identity taken away by a thoughtless, negligent man who placed more importance on going out drinking with friends than on Nathan’s life and the lives of other people he could have killed.”

Changing of the family structure alters how we go forward in life. We are forced to take on roles, do things we had not planned. Essentially we have to take on a new uncomfortable identity. How insightful that this sibling was able to express this as a significant adjustment.

As if divinely inspired, victim of manslaughter, Nathan Marti completed an “autobiographical project” in school including a last will and testament.

If I were to go, I would die happy knowing that I had tried my best to be who I am. ….My parents raised me to be a loving and caring person. ….If this was my Last Will and Testament, I would leave all of my earthly belongings to my family and close-knit group of friends…. It’s a scary thought. I hope that when I go, my family and friends are happy and at peace with my death, knowing that we will all be together again some day.”

If possible, the advantage of having several family members present, gives the opportunity to provide am individual picture of the victim so that the court might perceive the victim from many perspectives

What’s Missing “at Face Value?”

This victim impact statement was powerful. It portrayed a family in grief, a family devastated by change forced upon them. It was filled with emotion and articulate thought.  It was organized. It was reasonable in requests to the judge. The narrative offered insights not often discussed and made reference to much thought and many drafts in the making.

However, as I read this statement objectively, I wondered, what were the victim’s accomplishments prior to his death at age 25, in comparison to the perpetrator? What were his talents that would not be fulfilled in addition to his job goal? Although his job as a uniformed Diplomatic Security Officer at the Department of State, was stated, I wondered, what were his duties? How did he acquire such a job?  Was he in a committed relationship? What had been done to create a legacy i.e. events, memorials, scholarships?

As this was an academic exercise only, I would never presume to actually grade a person’s emotions. That would be totally weird and unfair. Rather, if we look at content and effectiveness alone, I would assign a B+ or A minus to this victim impact statement.

Following delivery and posting of this victim impact statement on Nathan’s Memorial website for all to benefit, which is so laudable, Lindsay had this to say about the experience. Comments that ring in my ears.

August 7, 2008

“I will never know whether my statement had any influence over the judge when she sentenced Chan to 20 years in prison with 5 years suspended, but that is of little importance to me. What’s important is that my victim impact statement provided me with some sort of relief at a time of such darkness in my life.” 

Lindsay’s Victim Impact Statement in it’s entirety: http://www.scribd.com/doc/14568236/Victim-impact-statement

To learn more about Nathan Marti and the Nathan Marti Scholarship Fund, fundraisers, etc. go to: http://nathanmarti.blogspot.com/

Rest in Peace, Nathan!

—–

References: http://www.scribd.com/doc/14568236/Victim-impact-statement

https://www.scribd.com/LindsayMarti

http://nathanmarti.blogspot.com/

 

Victim Impact Statements: Texas Style

lone-star-state-386514_640

Of all the 50 States, we know by reputation that Texas doesn’t mess around, in particular when it comes to executions. They rank #1 with 522 state executions since 1982, and six thus far in 2015. Compared to other states, Texas takes a hard line.

When their victim impact statement packet is examined from a formatting standpoint, it appears to me, a homicide survivor, to be thorough.

Texas is an “opt in” state for crime victims in choosing to receive “cafeteria style” services from a list versus granting all services automatically and asking a family to “opt out” of those services they are not interested in.

A useful feature of their packet highlights how under which circumstances a victim impact statement is used.

  • PROSECUTOR:  Considers VIS before entering a plea agreement; Considers VIS before to determine restitution (if requested)
  • JUDGE: Considers VIS before imposing sentence by judge (No jury hers it.) Considers VIS before accepting a plea deal;
  • DEFENSE: (EXCLUDING Confidential Info Sheet. Includes notification preferences and personal demographic info.)  The Defense “may see” VIS with the court’s approval and may introduce evidence or testimony regarding content accuracy;
  • PROBATION DEPARTMENT: “Has access” to VIS;
  • TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE:  As part of the process, if the defendant is sentenced to prison, the VIS is forwarded to the TDCJ;
  • BOARD OF PARDONS & PAROLE: The BP&P will “consider the VIS” prior to rendering a decision whether to release the prisoner to parole supervision or to retain.

If we examine the language, some parties “consider,” others “may see” while still others only “forward.”  It would appear that not everyone in the system has equal weight, as it should be, with the judge as the final authority.

Next, the packet includes “dry” statutory definitions and a list of general victim rights followed by rights concerning victims of sexual assault.

Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 56 Texas Constitution, Article I Section 30

  • Receive adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from cooperation with prosecution efforts;
  • have their safety considered by the magistrate when setting bail;
  • receive information, on request, of relevant court proceedings, including appellate proceedings, of cancellations and rescheduling prior to the event, and appellate court decisions after the decisions are entered but before they are made public;
  • be informed, when requested, by a peace officer about the defendant’s right to bail and criminal investigation procedures, and from the prosecutor’s office about general procedures in the criminal justice system, including plea agreements, restitution, appeals and parole;
  • provide pertinent information concerning the impact of the crime to the probation department prior to sentencing;
  • information about the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund and payment for a medical examination for a victim of sexual assault, and, on request, referral to social service agencies that provide additional assistance;
  • information, on request, about parole procedures; notification of parole proceedings and of the inmate’s release; and the opportunity to participate in the parole process by submitting written information to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file for consideration by the Board prior to parole;
  • a separate or secure waiting area at all public court proceedings;
  • prompt return of any property that is no longer needed as evidence;
  • have the prosecutor notify, upon request, an employer that the need for the victim’s testimony may involve the victim’s absence from work;
  • on request, counseling and testing regarding AIDS and HIV infection and testing for victims of sexual assault
  • request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  • be informed of the use and purpose of a victim impact statement, to complete a victim impact statement and to have the statement considered before sentencing and acceptance of a plea bargain and before an inmate is released on parole.

A victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim may be present at all public court proceedings, with the consent of the presiding judge; 

A judge, attorney for the state, peace officer, or law enforcement agency is not liable for a failure or inability to provide a service enumerated herein. 

Victims should also know that they can have a victim advocate accompany them during the sexual assault exam if an advocate is available at the time of the examination. 

Please call your crime victim services contacts in law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office for more information about victim services in your community. 

Contents of the Confidential Information Sheet 

  • Basic identifying info regarding the defendant;
  • Instructions and  brief checklist regarding the effect that the crime had on the victim and family;
  • Victim’s Name; 19 item Checklist with emotionally related feelings (i.e. Changes in sleep pattern, anger, depression, fear of strangers etc.)
  • Question – if counseling has been sought, with the opportunity to write a narrative about the family member’s “thoughts, feelings and general well-being”.
  • Narrative Section for Physical Injuries suffered due to the crime, asking  the extent of injuries, longevity and location of treatment received;
  • Financial Loss Section- Requests the type of losses incurred with a brief checklist including inquiry re victim compensation and the recommendation of keeping a log
  • Final signature and Date

What’s Missing?

There is no mention, nor can I find legislative effort for Texas families to provide photos of their loved one during these vitally important events. This may exist if requeste, I just could not locate any evidence in my search that it is part of the procedure.

MISSING- Any recommendation to “paint the picture” using a  description of who the deceased victim was as a person, as a member of the family, his/her  previous contributions, talents, hopes, dreams, missed opportunities!  No mention is made to provide a videotaped statement by significant family members who cannot physically attend or who may be elderly, frail and pass on in the future and want to have their wishes documented.

It’s like baking a cake and omitting the flour!

Finding the Missing Piece

puzzle-654961_640One of the remaining avenues for crime victims to have a voice within the courts is through victim impact statements. Victim impact statements are usually read after trial as a way to get into the record the impact of the crime on the victims along with their friends and families.

Creating the appropriate victim impact statement can be a daunting task for families during one of the most traumatic times in their lives. After the initial loss, the journey through the judicial system can be equally frustrating, time-consuming and emotionally draining, re-traumatizing and bringing grief back to the surface. To best utilize the victims’ right to present a victim impact statement at trial, you must be clear-headed and as objective as possible, which for the crime victim is next to impossible.

I provide a professional Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for surviving victims that may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings.

If you are in the above situation, please go to Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for more information and my credentials.

 

 

References:

http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/pubs_victim_impact_statement.html

https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/victims/victim_rights.shtml

 

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”