Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I

Victim Impact Statement

This is a series of articles on the importance of the Victim Impact Statement including tips that I have gathered over the years from my personal experience as a homicide survivor, from others, and from those I have been able to assist in writing this critical document.

As a new crime victim, an affiliation that was never imagined or requested, you are thrust into the world of the unknown. If you are fortunate enough to have arrived on this stage of victim impact delivery at a trial sentencing, as opposed to plea deals, you have arrived at the most important point in your journey for justice. Your voice is finally allowed to be counted. The real world of criminal justice is a bitter pill to swallow. Justice is never swift nor fair, especially concerning sentencing.

When you begin to prepare your victim impact statement, you want to convey the journey and the overall toll it has taken from many perspectives; emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially, the overview of your current situation. Projecting into the future, express your wishes regarding the disposition of the perpetrator and any changes to the system which negatively impacted and/or re-victimized you or, alternately, your satisfaction with how you were treated.

Familiarizing the Deciding Body with the Victim

The judge or parole hearing officers may have a pre-sentence report, but that report may contain very little information about who your loved one was, the way they lived their life and what they meant to you, as opposed to only being the victim of the crime.

It is imperative that you provide a complete portrayal of your loved one both visually with pictures, and with the words of your Victim Impact Statement, as this may be your only opportunity for several years until the point of your initial court or parole appearance, or until you obtain future opportunity to address the court or parole board.

Talk about who your loved one was beyond the crime; their assets, talents, what they contributed to the family and to others, and their aspirations for the future that were taken away.  You can acknowledge that the victim may have had flaws, as we all do, however, the account should stress their past positive activities.

Watch for more information in future articles of Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors


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If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

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The Back Stories of Victim Impact

 

Every crime victim has at least one “back story.” They are the stories that the media doesn’t report, doesn’t know, doesn’t care about, particularly in the manner of humanizing the victim and not focusing solely on the perpetrator.  Back stories contain the victimology, the inspirational moments, the turning points in life.

For assistance in creating a personalized victim impact statement, I offer my services nationally for those who feel they aren’t in a position to objectively present their innermost feelings to the court. Refer to Victim Impact Statement Assistance

Two examples of victim impact “back stories” from different perspectives

The brutal rape of Anne Heck from Asheville, North Carolina as told in 2004:

Anne Heck

Anne Heck

There was the initial impact of his fist hitting my face, the impact of him throwing my bike into the bushes, the impact of his body forcing itself into mine. Then there were the blazing sirens that delivered me to the hospital, my body becoming the source of evidence, my swollen face in the mirror, and the pain in friends’ faces. But there was something much deeper. Now, 14 years later, I was faced with the task of communicating this impact; it was not easily put into words.”

The Day of the Rape:  I was raped in July 1990. It was a beautiful summer day and I was enjoying a road trip on my bicycle exploring back roads. I loved the freedom I felt on two wheels with the sun on my back. What a stark contrast this incident was to my intention for that day.

 Growth  “The day I was raped, I learned about friendship and kindness ….when a stranger picked me up along that dusty road and took me crumpled and terror-stricken to the closest paramedic unit. A rather new acquaintance made calls to dentists for me. I had two teeth that were knocked out-of-place and a kind doctor agreed to stay late to help me. Unfortunately, the teeth were irreparable, the roots damaged. I would eventually have to have root canals and other reparative work done to them.” 

“I learned about letting go… as I had my favorite blue biking shorts and shirt, stained with blood, bagged by police and taken away for evidence.”

“I grew into new ways of viewing my freedom…. as I had my trusty touring bike covered in black fingerprint dust returned to my apartment. It sat untouched for weeks.”

“I remember with disgust… the volunteer at the hospital who came into my room to read scripture and tell me I could be forgiven for my sins. I experienced what it felt like to be shunned at the health center when I went in for a pregnancy test and shared that I had been raped.”

The feelings Anne described included fuzziness, deep fear, hypersensitivity to noise, inability to tolerate crowds, or strangers, the fact that “the emotions were trapped in her body” when trying to glean the benefit from counseling.” She drew a picture of her attacker in an attempt to purge herself of the fear.

Surprisingly, Anne learned patience whether it be with counseling or the results of her HIV test.  She also stated, While I do not condone (perpetrator) Mr. McDonald’s act and feel he should receive his just sentence,…“I have come to accept this as a chapter of my life that has provided me with the potential for my personal healing and development.” 

Moving Beyond:  The year after her rape and much counseling, Anne left her Virginia home to find a support system and a peaceful place in which to heal, she began training as a rape crisis counselor and speaker.  Self defense classes came next and initiating assertiveness training, shedding her former teaching job.   The horrific attack began to fade into the background of her life, HOWEVER, there was an ever-present severe pain in her hips and pelvis. How to relieve the pain and inability to walk, to capture complete healing, if possible?

Enter the detective in her case with news. She and her two young children were ready to “put this chapter away”. In fact, in her words she says, “I believe I’m blessed to have the opportunity to experience this part of my healing process. This event is for me a symbolic statement of hope fulfilled and justice served and most importantly, it demonstrates the power of choosing my own strength.”

The Aftermath:  On August 23, 2004, Terry L. McDonald, (who was serving a 48-year sentence for sexual assault in West Virginia,) pleaded guilty in Prince William County, Virginia Circuit Court to rape and abduction with intent to defile. The Judge in this case was asked to give McDonald the maximum punishment—two life terms in prison—at his October 29 sentencing.

Full Circle: When she returned to Virginia for the sentencing. She also took her bike and declared her freedom on those dusty backroads!

For more information about Anne Heck refer to her website.

A Father’s and a Husband’s  Story from Australia- Victim Impact Statement May 19, 2013

Jill Meagher

Jill Meagher

September 28, 2012  Jill Meager was an ABC radio broadcaster in Melbourne, Australia and was remembered by her peers as “an important member of our local radio team, a vibrant organizing presence at 774 Melbourne, a key liaison for our local radio stations across Victoria and a valued partner in the administrative team supporting local radio around the country, as a widely known, universally respected and much-loved, with a great career ahead of her.”

The body of the Irish-born 29-year-old was abducted and her body was found a week later in a field, northwest of Melbourne. Adrian Ernest Bayley, 41 was charged with her rape and murder. Jill walked along a road at 1:40 am where this perpetrator wearing a blue hoodie called to her.

George McKeon, 55, Father of Jill Meagher speaks for him and his wife:

  • A father has a stroke, with inspiration from a daughter to live to “have future grandchildren to run around with;”
  • A mother’s words recounting childhood memories,
  • Lamenting what could have been and “life stopping” as they know it;
  • Jill’s personality – funny, intelligent with huge empathy;
  • As described by Jill’s mother ,Edith (Who was ill and could not attend to deliver her victim impact statement)  “A couple’s relationship changes after 30 years of marriage – Dealing with the loss in different ways –The emotional harm is devastating, We are inconsolable. The links of the four of us have been shattered…
  • The Aftermath -Emotions felt – Catastrophic, sad, lonely, with anxiety,  panic attacks and insomnia
  • Rebuilding a new life is very sad… as a mother, “I have been given a life sentence.”

Thomas Meagher Jill’s Husband:

  • First Encounter – “awkward” followed by an 11 year adventure
  • Jill embodied everything I could ask … her thirst for life … Sher pulled me through difficult times and “pulled me up even higher in good times.”
  • All things stolen from me…  love, my best friend, our future
  • My world view of good has been shaken to the core…
  • I hesitate to leave my apartment. I have nightmare. I have been forced to move
  • I am constantly confused, disoriented and unfocused
  • The intrusion of the police investigation – . Quite simply, my life will never be the same again.”
  • I miss waking up on Sunday and having breakfast at 2 pm.
  • I think of the waste of a brilliant mind and the beautiful soul at the hands of a grotesque and soulless human being.’ I am half a person because of this crime.”

Sentencing: Adrian Bayley was sentenced to life in prison, with a 35-year non-parole period, for the rape and murder of Jill Meagher. Judge Geoffrey Nettle said that he subjected Meagher to a “savage and degrading” assault and that his multiple previous attacks on women demanded that he be sent to prison for a lengthy period.

Conclusion:  Whether you are “An ordinary person out for nature’s adventures on your bike,”or whether you are a talented radio broadcaster, it matters not. Pain and loss is the same. How we cope and “face the world for a new day” is the most tie that binds all humanity.

Additional References: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/abc-employee-jill-meaghers-family-devastated-by-her-death/story-e6frg6nf-1226483095816

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/09/28/jill-meagher-dead-adrian-bayley-arrested-abc_n_1921987.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/19/adrian-bayley-jailed-jill-meagher

Alcatraz. . . And All that Jazz


It was a unique vacation many years ago – in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.  This was a much anticipated trip by bus throughout selected areas of California, including the infamous Alcatraz Island that held a special significance for this blogger.  Career criminal Perry Lee Herring was behind bars for the murder of my father and another perpetrator, an accomplice in a bank robbery.  I imagined that the harsh conditions of Alcatraz might be the same as what Herring was experiencing in Connecticut. (Naught!)

This was also a special trip as it was an adventure of sorts – staying at a quaint gay owned hotel at the foot of Chinatown… and the opportunity to explore San Francisco and the California wine country… to connect with “my people of orientation,” if I could find them.

As for “my people,” I found but one smokey, not so nice women’s bar.  Even the Women’s Center in the Castro appeared to be underground… but that’s a chapter for another time.  Disillusionment….  This was a man’s town it seemed.

Anyway, some of the details of that trip are fuzzy after all of the intervening years.  However, this fact stands out while on my way to tour Alcatraz Island, I KID YOU NOT…. I WAS ROBBED (i.e. my cash was stolen) while on Alcatraz!  How could it be? Where were the cops?  Where was Burt Lancaster (the Birdman) when I needed them?

I was at the snack bar prior to the tour to buy a drink on this swelteringly hot day.  I laid my change purse with $50.00 cash on the counter for what seemed like just a few seconds.  (The rest was located elsewhere in traveler’s checks).  As I was organizing myself, I took my eyes off the counter and …. GONE!

I immediately reported it and the Ferry police (with their big hats similar to mounted police).  They radioed to the mainland and conducted their search/investigation, interviewing people, filling out documents etc.

I suspected the counter person as a likely suspect or another tourist who made off with my cash and quickly headed back to the ferry.  Results…. NADA!   What a way to begin a vacation!!!  But, I, ladyjustice, was not deterred.  Having gotten the “bad luck” out of the way, I was now on my way  to a fascinating adventure to re-live how crime was dealt with going back to the days of the Civil War in the 1880’s until Alcatraz’s closing in 1963.

One of the many times in which Alcatraz received national attention included  when it was temporarily occupied as part of a Native American Civil Rights Movement that spanned from 1969 to 1971 when Federal agents “removed them” in 1971.

Personally, I would love to see my father’s killer “dropped off” without any life necessities to live out the rest of his miserable life as a lone survivor  (as in the TV show).  Next, I would “drop off all of the sexual predators that could possibly fit on the island.  SAYONARA, BABY!

Back to “The Rock”….

When one tours Alcatraz as a typical tourist, you are given a headset and walkman recorder (perhaps they are digital now) and the story is recounted as you walk the various cell blocks, mess hall etc. and provided with a series of frequently asked questions and answers.

As I toured, I was struck by the absolute desolation and degradation of everyday life.  Today’s prisons, in comparison are country clubs by any measurable standard, no doubt about it!  (Bloggers, I refer you to my previous blog called Prison Programming, Is it a Panacea?) What a dramatic contrast!!

According to the website www.alcatrazhistory.com, the daily routine at Alcatraz was vey mundane – nothing interesting unless you think prisoners waiting several times a day for guards to count and verify people and pieces of silverware…

True interest as a tourist attraction lies in Alcatraz’s age, history of the prison itself, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast and other features such as seabird colonies and remnants of early military fortifications.

As per http://www.islandsinfo.com and the previous source, here are some

FUN FACTS” about Life on Alcatraz

1)    12 Acre Island maintained by the National Park service;

2)    Began as a Military Reservation in 1850 and was transformed into a Federal Penitentiary in 1934;

3)    Famous Movies Filmed on Alcatraz include: “Murder in the First”-1995; “The Rock”-1996; “Star Wars-The Emperor Strikes Back”-1980 and “Escape from Alcatraz”- 1979;

4)    Average length of stay at “Hotel Alcatraz” – 8 years

*** Tourist average length of stay (Unless you are robbed) 2-3 hours;

5)    Highest capacity of prisoners– 302;

6)    Typical Cell Accommodations – 336 cells in total; 5 feet X 9 feet;

Small sink, toilet and a cot;

7)    Most Common Complaints by Inmates:

“Rule of Silence” (i.e. speaking allowed only during meals and recreation – abolished in 1930);

Constant cold temperatures

8)    Number of Inmate Deaths on the Rock

8- Murdered;

5- Suicide;

15- Natural Illness

(This blogger wonders….. Do those parents who inflict domestic violence in California tell their children… “You had better be good, or we’ll put you on Alcatraz???”  I sure hope not…)

9)    Escape Attempts

36 men attempted involved in 14 separate incidents;

23 were caught;

6 were shot and killed;

2 drowned

No, sorry, make that 37 attempted escapes including Donna Gore… Whew!