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.

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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

A New Normal…

 

Crime victims do not have the label emblazoned on their foreheads, but they might as well once their circle of friends and co-workers know what has occurred. They carry on with the business of life, but how can you?

When the crime and the loss of your loved one first occurs, your entire world has been turned upside down and inside out.  You retreat; you’re numb, in shock and disbelief. You “have an idea” what should occur with the police and the judicial system as you are smart and keep up with current events (or so you think.)

You are either a doer and try to arrange, organize, and  call investigators twice a day for the latest information (that they cannot divulge), all in an attempt to postpone the gut wrenching grief …Or you are condemned to the couch in a fetal position looking for a reason to go on.

Your family members are “all over the place” with their emotions. They want to talk about it, or not at all, they try to seek comfort in their own ways and may resist your attempts to band together in solidarity.  If relationships are strained to begin with, thrusting people into this incomprehensible situation can fuel the fire.  It is the rare family who can put aside their differences and be troopers in the face of violent crime. However, it is possible.  Such complex dynamics remind me of the classic movie “The Big Chill”: (Part 1 of 6)  A bunch of misfit college friends are thrown together over the loss of their friend’s suicide.

After violent crime, your friends and co-workers are supposed to be your anchors, right?  Well, not really!

Co-workers and friends may secretly feel that the family did not take measures to prevent or intercede, that they were somehow partially responsible.

If the case is high-profile with the media, there are ever-present reminders, innuendo, rumor and misinformation.

Knowing that your average adult attention span is fleeting for “normal conversation,” how do you engage with them repeatedly with your tragedy? How can they possibly relate? How can they sympathize? Unless they have been through it, they cannot. You do not know it, but you are a burden to the workings of other’s normalcy! It’s not you! It’s they who are so uncomfortable! It is not your job to make them feel comfortable when you are actively grieving.

One of my favorite sayings for this intersection of life was that after the homicide “the casseroles stopped coming after two weeks.” Yup, two weeks is the average attention span for those who cannot relate!

Therefore, you MUST change-up your friends for those you grieve with and have a common bond with, such as a crime victim’s support group become your true friends, your surrogate family for as long as you need them! However, for some, there is that temptation to take on the victim identity for too long, unable to establish a “new normal.” BEWARE my friends of the pitfalls of grief! The pitfalls  can “eat you up and spit you out for dinner” if you do not have the proper guidance to help you navigate for the long haul.

It is rough terrain indeed! Even thirty plus years down the trail, I am not perfect. I wear the scars of vulnerabilities and some regrets for which I have no control.  Ahhh, but wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to dance again, “just like at the end of the Big Chill” movie despite the tragedy that has occurred. It is sign of healing, if only for a minute!  Who wants to dance with me?  The Big Chill Dance Scene: 

With that said another aspect of the aftermath of crime whose drum cannot be beaten enough, is the task and importance of the Victim Impact Statement which can, if carefully crafted, change the outcome of sentencing and any former thoughts of prisoner release with the proper assistance.

Contact me if interested! https://donnagore.com/victim-impact-statement-assistance/

Your Home is your Castle…Or is it?

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Having recently ventured into real estate for the second time in my life after seeing the state of real estate in Los Suenos resort on my Costa Rica trip, it reminded me of a long ago crime seen on Nancy Grace years ago- It concerned the murder of a real estate agent during a showing in a posh neighborhood. Unlikely to happen?  Not any more!

Real estate is a very service- oriented profession They are supposed to be quick studies of your likes, dislikes, preferences , personal habits, your pocket-book, your expectations (often unrealistic) and be at your beck and call with a myriad of requests and have the ability to  negotiate all problems. And let us not forget the “Greek languages” spoken by financial counselors, lending institutions and insurance companies!  Surely we are talking about a miracle worker!  No, they are just average people looking to make a living and earn a well deserved commission “at the end of the road.”

However with the influx of our fast paced society, social media and ever creative criminals, real estate agents have never been so vulnerable. However, with common sensibilities for 2014 and some advanced preparation, the odds of trouble can be lowered.

According to a January 2014 article from HousingWire, the Most 10 Dangerous Cities for real estate agents include locations in Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri. The data is based on location, and city population in relation to their crime rate per resident.

The Top Five Most Dangerous Locations:

#1 East St. Louis, Illinois

Reigning as the most dangerous city in America, East St. Louis also places the other half to number eight on the list. “St. Louis proper” has a population of over 318,000. East St. Louis has only 27,000 residents but struggles with a crime rate of over 117 offenses per 1,000 people;

#2 Camden, New Jersey

Camden is tucked next to Philadelphia, Pa. It has a population of almost 78,000, with 6,080 documented crimes in 2013;

#3 Flint, Michigan

Flint is located about halfway between Detroit and Saginaw. Flint ranks in at third with crime rate of 85 per 1,000 residents;

 #4 West Memphis, Arkansas

West Memphis is the furthest south city on the list and holds a crime rate of 117 per 1,000 residents;

#5. Saginaw, Michigan

North of Detroit, Saginaw has a much smaller population but still records a total of 2,976 violent and property crimes in 2013, with a population slightly over 51,000;

(Six-Detroit; Seven- Atlantic City, Eight-St. Louis; None- Newburg, New York; Ten – Inkster, Michigan)

What are some of the “New Issues” Encountered?

According to Tracey Hawkins, a former real Estate Agent and owner of a company called Safety and Security Source, she creates a variety of safety programs for agents and workers of other service related businesses.

With a distressed economy brings abandoned properties, squatters, aggressive pets, angry homeowners of foreclosed properties, meth labs and pot houses etc. Social media can also provide access and a tool for criminals with announcements of open houses.

General Considerations –

Meet clients at the office when others are present, obtain a copy of the prospective client’s driver’s license and always inform others of your whereabouts. In resorts and high tourist areas, such as cities in Florida, South Carolina, California, agents and law enforcement must be even more vigilant as criminals can easily hide “in plain sight.”  My personal experience was that it was like pulling teeth to find and capture a real estate agent’s attention in South Carolina.  Many of them… don’t call back, they miss appointments, they don’t take you seriously “as a Yankee” etc.  Yes, many people are “just lookers.” However, those from other geographic areas, perhaps with a little better paycheck than some  locals deserve respect and attention regardless.  FORTUNATELY, I finally located a gem of a person!

FOCUS ON TWO CASES THAT TOUCH THE HEART

Killed “On the Job” 

Can you imagine a lovely young realtor murdered in a model Home?   In April 2011, 27 year old Ashley Oakland was shot in the head and chest in a Des Moines Iowa at an open house. Initially, a male colleague was suspected.  Four and a half years have passed. Reward money has increased from an initial $10,000 to $150,000.  How does this happen to “a person with no enemies”?  Police reported as of 2013, nearly 800 leads were investigated with 380 people interviewed. A co-worker stated: “She could handle herself professionally and still bring a lot of fun and positive energy into any room she was in, and I always appreciated that,” the organization’s president, Jason Wells. Well’s had purchased his Stone Creek Village home with Oakland’s help.

Summary Timeline of the Case

On July 15, 2014, the Ashley Oakland Star Playground, designed especially for children with special needs was “open for business.”

2014 Case Update:  A Related Case?  An Oct. 1, 2014 KCRG-TV9 story said authorities in West Des Moines were planning to check with investigators in Arkansas to see if there was any connection between Okland’s murder and that of 49-year-old Beverly Carter, a Little Rock, Arkansas realtor who was killed after setting up an appointment to show an empty home.

Carter was reported missing Sept. 25, 2014, and the Pulaski (Ark.) County Sheriff’s Office said her body was found Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 in a shallow grave.

A Des Moines Register article by Christopher Pratt republished at USAToday.com on Oct. 1, 2014, said of Carter’s murder:

Authorities in Arkansas have arrested parolee Arron Michael Lewis, 33, of Jacksonville, Ark., and charged him with capital murder in connection with the case. Police accuse Lewis of setting up an appointment with Carter to view a vacant house in a rural area near Little Rock then killing her a burying her body on the grounds of a concrete company where he once worked.

Officials had not yet stated how Carter died or what they had linking Lewis to the crime.

West Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Ken O’Brien said police want to know where Lewis was in April 2011 when Ashley Okland was killed.

Police are asking anyone with information about Okland’s murder to contact the West Des Moines Police Department at 515-222-3344 or Polk County Crime Stoppers at 515-223-1400. You may also text “PCCS plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) or provide a tip online.

Ladyjustice  Comments/Questions:

Was this killing committed by “an admirer” who may have been rejected? Did Ashley know her assailant”? It seems that it was a personal crime or someone absolutely wanted no possibility of survival with shots to the head and chest.  By appearances, Ashley had the perfect life but was there another love interest? Was there a real estate transaction that  went terribly wrong?  Did she see something or become aware of a business deal that was shady and she was “silenced forever?”

Cold Case- Former Real Estate Agent- Donna Kuzmaak- Portland Oregon

On March 27, 1979, a husband finds his wife dead when he arrives home. “I remember her dragging me around to people’s homes she was selling. Cleaning places up to sell,” said Steve Mitchell, Kuzmaak’s husband.

Donna Kuzmaak was an outgoing 26 year old white female, athletic and played soccer and softball.  She had attended the University of Oregon, studying biology and liberal arts.  She worked in real estate for E.G. Stassens and Company, located at 49th and SE Powell.  On the day of the murder,

On the day Donna was killed, her husband, Mitchell arrived home from work at 4:30 p.m. Donna left work 90 minutes earlier. She was located in the basement.

Mitchell noticed the couple’s dogs were acting strangely and a dish of leftover manicotti sat out.” Whoever was there may have got it out to distract the dogs. That’s the only thing I could think of,” he said. She was beaten, strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted. Mitchell later noticed one of the dogs was stabbed as well, likely trying to protect her.

“She fought very hard,” said Mike Stahlman, a retired detective now volunteering the Portland Police Bureau’s Cold Case unit. “There was evidence that she did fight but was just overcome at some point.”

Witnesses may contact Cold Case Homicide Unit investigators directly at (503) 823-0400. To remain anonymous, witnesses may provide information through Crime Stoppers of Oregon.

Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Tipsters can remain anonymous. Leave a Crime Stoppers tip online or text CRIMES (274637) and in the subject line put 823HELP, followed by the tip, or call (503) 823-HELP (4357) and leave the tip information.

 Ladyjustice Comments/Questions

Donna arrived home and was beaten, strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted.  This appears to be “overkill.’ She was married just two years… Who else was in her past?  As a realtor, did she make it a habit to lock the doors when home alone?  It appears that the dogs were distracted by the killer and it was done prior to the husband’s arrival, such that one could assume her routines were monitored by her attacker.  As she made it a practice to “clean places up” in order to flip houses, this could mean depressed neighborhoods with shady characters. Were her comings and goings of older homes tracked and the neighbors interviewed and investigated?  Did Donna perhaps get into a dispute with any contactors or “would be helpers” looking for extra money?

SAFETY FIRST!

We do not have the answers for Ashley or Donna. However, here’s some valuable advice from realtors concerning methods to stay safe. 

Although the Oakland and Kuzmaak families this far have been denied the opportunity to present a victim impact statement, if you have an impending judicial proceeding, perhaps a trial sentencing or a board of pardons and parole hearing, I may be able to assist through my unique Victim Impact Statement Assistance service.

Related links:

http://www.housingwire.com/blogs/1-rewired/post/28640-most-dangerous-cities-for-real-estate-agents

http://www.kptv.com/story/24999578/cold-case-young-real-estate-agent-found-dead-in-basement#ixzz3HBXJJsiz

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/458187

http://iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/ashley-okland/