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

Shattered Lives Radio: Victim Impact Statement Reverses Parole

 

 

 

Shattered Lives Radio

On a recent episode of Shattered Lives Radio, I was privileged to discuss yet another discrepancy in the Connecticut Pardon and Parole system. As you may remember, my own family’s experience with a parole hearing left us out in left field, scrambling at the last minute to insure that my father’s murderer stayed behind bars.

For the surviving family members of slain Plainville, CT police officer, Robert Holcomb, the incompetence and lack of communication from the Pardon and Parole Board, created the perfect storm and Holcomb’s murderer was granted parole in January, 2015.

Slain Plainville, CT police officer Robert Holcomb

Robert Holcomb

Family members of officer Holcomb were not notified of the upcoming parole hearing and therefore were not in attendance when it was granted. However, they immediately asked for another hearing, it was granted, and the parole was rescinded after hearing the statements of surviving family members.

One of the most influential aspects of the recission hearing was the victim impact statement read by Holcomb’s son, Mac, who was only 3 years old at the time of his father’s murder.  Mac Holcomb Victim Impact Statement (download pdf)

The Shattered Lives Radio episode speaks with Mac Holcomb, his cousin Maria Weinberger, and Plainville Chief of Police, Matt Catania who has become a valued family friend as well. We were able to bring to light many of the mistakes of the Pardon and Parole Board which has had negative influence on the Holcomb family, my family, and countless others we don’t even know about.

Shattered Lives Radio Points of Discussion

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  • You don’t know what you don’t know.  The fact that as a new crime victim they typically are not versed in criminal or judicial procedures.  They also are not familiar with how to navigate the bureaucracies of state agencies, their protocols or websites.
  • Who is a victim? Is it only immediate family vs. extended family?
  • The role of victim impact statements according to Mac Holcomb, nearly forty years later.
  • The police community and seeking justice according to Chief Matt Catania.
  • Creating a victim’s voice, what’s missing?  New beginnings for the future, i.e. legislative recommendations such as earlier notification for victims, examining the appointment and eligibility process of hearing officers, continuing education, etc.
  • Maria Weinberger offers a list of legislative recommendations to address Parole Board Reforms (download pdf)
  • Lessons to be learned for the future.  From a previous Shattered Lives Radio episode, Atty. Michelle Cruz offers several ideas from her experience as the CT State Victim Advocate.

In my opinion, one of the most important lessons learned from the Holcomb family experience, and my own, is the critical need for crime victims to be heard through preparing a victim impact statement. Often, it’s the only time their concerns are able to be voiced.

One way I feel I can help victims who are desperately trying to navigate the judicial system is by offering a Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service. If you are a crime victim, I invite you to learn more about my service by referring to my website for details.

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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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