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. 

 

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

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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

 

The Rights of Crime Victims: A “Back of the Bus” Mentality 

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As citizens born and bred in the United States, we often cannot appreciate our freedoms…unless they have been trampled upon in the most egregious of ways.

Some rights are considered  fundamental and “Universal,” recognized by the United Nations which  structurally has six arms –governing bodies  (See reference #57 for a pictorial summary)  These include:

 Right to self-determination

 Right to liberty

 Right to due process of law

 Right to freedom of movement

 Right to freedom of thought

 Right to freedom of religion

 Right to freedom of expression

 Right to peaceably assemble

 Right to freedom of association

Civil Rights include:  the rights that are granted to every citizen of the United States by the constitution and all of its amendments. Equal protection is guaranteed to every one regardless of race, color and creed.

In history and in current day, we can find a multitude of examples wherever we look to see egregious examples of human and civil rights violations!  What good are laws if they are constantly broken by the general public?  Even so, laws provide a framework and structure for the masses in which to conform. Without such order, lawmakers no doubt felt that without such rules, those without self-discipline would flourish and our very existence would be in a state of constant chaos!

The Matter of Laws With and Without Enforcement:

We all know that you can carefully craft and pass laws “until the cows come home.”  Poorly crafted laws aside, if those well researched, written and implemented laws are not ENFORCED, they serve no real purpose except for the “feel good nature of legislators” who believe that they have done their jobs to pacify their constituencies.

Case in Point:

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks [1913-2005] On December 1, 1955, at the age of 43, Rosa Parks, who was a trained activist for the NAACP  and a civil rights activist.  She was employed as a seamstress, and refused to vacate her seat for a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested and convicted of violating the laws of segregation.

The Jim Crow laws were in effect –   “Jim Crow was not a person, yet affected the lives of millions of people.  They were named after a popular 19th-century minstrel song that stereotyped African-Americans, “Jim Crow” came to personify the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation in the United States”.  

They emerged in southern states after the U.S. Civil War. First enacted in the 1880s by lawmakers who were bitter about their loss to the North and the end of Slavery, the statutes separated the races in all walks of life. The resulting legislative barrier to equal rights created a system that favored whites and repressed blacks, an institutionalized form of inequality that grew in subsequent decades with help from the U.S. Supreme Court. The remnants of the Jim Crow system were finally abolished in the 1960s through the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Henry Ford Museum in which the bus is housed, explained further, “…Under Jim Crow customs and laws, it was relatively easy to separate the races in every area of life except transportation. Bus and train companies couldn’t afford separate cars and so blacks and whites had to occupy the same space.” 

Thus, transportation was one the most volatile arenas for race relations in the South. Mrs. Parks remembers going to elementary school in Pine Level, Alabama, where buses took white kids to the new school but black kids had to walk to their school.

“I’d see the bus pass every day,” [Rosa] said. “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world”  

Montgomery’s Jim Crow customs were particularly harsh and gave bus drivers great latitude in making decisions on where people could sit. The law even gave bus drivers the authority to carry guns to enforce their edicts. Mrs. Parks’ attorney Fred Gray remembered, “Virtually every African-American person in Montgomery had some negative experience with the buses. But we had no choice. We had to use the buses for transportation.”

The Legacy of Rosa Parks

It wasn’t about being obstinate or that her feet hurt, her impetus blossomed into a very impactful, dangerous and courageous bus boycott for the imagesworld and Presidents to view. In my opinion, her act was the catalyst for real, effective civil rights. How often do you get the window of opportunity for change in this manner? President Kennedy, for all of his adoration, wanted the whole thing to  just go away “as he was “up to his ears “in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  As it turned out, the reluctant hero of circumstance, President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to make history and received the credit for civil rights change.

Rosa and the “Back of the Bus”

Rosa may have been a seamstress, and considered a second class citizen, but she was an intelligent woman, a strategist, and saw her opportunity.  But, what was it actually like for her and all of the blacks in the South that were so oppressed?  No matter if it was the lunch counter, water cooler, separate restrooms or back of the bus.  Disrespect and lack of human-civil rights is the same no matter how you package it!

“Back of the bus” and second class status is such a violation of who you are as a person, especially if there are clear laws and protections in place! Rosa had had enough and chose to rise up in favor of her race, her personhood, her humanity and for civil rights that were “just out off her reach” at the time. She was a pioneer.

An Analogy. It all began with an Assassination Attempt:

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.”

“Back of the Bus Status” with Crime Victim Rights:

There is no Amendment to the U.S. Constitution yet… and just 33 of 50 states have crime victim rights at the state level. For an excellent tutorial, see the “Shattered Lives” broadcast featuring Will Marling, Executive Director of NOVA.

If I were to make a laundry list, of excuses and injustices I know of, it would stretch from here to California.  However, the occurrences that portray the victim as “an afterthought” in favor of the States’ interest, who disparage the victim and their family members, particularly if they have not lived a “pristine life” [Who has?]; If communication and consideration are severely lacking such that it significantly impacts the case and family’s ability to cope and “go with the flow” of the cold, cruel judicial process; If there is a very prolonged resolution …or none at all;  If there is no support or resources, such that the victim is “in a jurisdictional black hole” based on geography, lack of access  or other circumstances beyond their control …or if the victim (if alive) or other family member is not equipped with the proper resilience necessary and choses a  destructive path,  these are the some of the most flagrant examples of “back of the bus mentality” that can do real damage.

A Judge’s “Back of the Bus” Attitude:

Those who are charged as officers of the court, who are compelled to treat others with fairness and objectivity and include all relevant information should hang their heads in shame reading the following account.  Although this is a very early example, we know that even in 2014, often many judges do not go out of their way to enforce victim’s right to be heard.

Victim advocate Jo Kolanda describes a sentencing hearing she attended in the 1970’s:

“I went to court for the sentencing of a defendant who had been convicted of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. With me were the mom and dad of the young woman he killed. The offender’s parents, friends, and pastor told the court what a wonderful guy he was. The victim’s parents asked the assistant district attorney to ask the judge if they could tell the court about their daughter. The judge said they could not because “It would be inflammatory.” Then he added that….. “He couldn’t understand why this simple traffic case was cluttering up his court calendar in the first place.”

[Reference: Janice Harris Lord, ACSW-LMSW/LPC For Mothers Against Drunk Driving Copyright © 2003 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, James Rowland, founder of the Victim Impact Statement; Anne Seymour of Justice Solutions in Washington, D.C et.al

The Crowning Achievement to “Get the Gore Family Outta the Back of the Bus”

April 24, 2013, THANK YOU  ATTY MICHELLE S. CRUZ and DR. LAURIE ROTH!

Please do take time to listen to our amazing journey on The Roth Show! It is a day forever in my heart for good or for bad.

 

And finally, my attempt to “fill in the gaps and pay it forward” in a different and needed manner:

A Customized Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service ,one 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.

  • Can you trust someone else to present a generic picture for you?
  • Can you trust that another relative  or friend will say what is needed?
  • Can you trust yourself to maintain control?

If the answer to any of these questions is doubtful, trust in me, a skilled writer and homicide survivor and advocate with over 30 years experience.  If you have been given sufficient time to prepare a victim impact statement, perhaps I can help.

For more information, please contact me about Victim Impact Statement Assistance.

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I wonder what Rosa Parks would have said about this service?  Very good things, I hope!

We will not stand for “back of the bus” any longer!

 

 

Additional References: http://thelawdictionary.org/civil-rights/
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/index.html
http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Jim+Crow+Law
http://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/rosaparks/story.asp