When the Voices of Victims are Silenced  

 

When homicide abruptly occurs, you can barely function. You are out of touch with the reality of it all.  Your world is thrown into an unimaginable tailspin. This happened to my family. It happened to the extended families of Bill and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins. A father, a son, a sister, brother-in-law and baby to be all lost to homicide.

Bill and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins with First Lady, Michelle Obama

Bill and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins with First Lady, Michelle Obama

You learn about the criminal justice system in the “trial by fire method.” Actually, this expression refers the medieval practice of determining a person’s guilt by having them undergo an ordeal, such as walking barefoot through a fire.  The personal ordeal of progressing though the criminal justice system is a similar feeling to walking barefoot through a fire.

The personal story of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkin’s family is illustrative of the coldness of the procedures.  Not only did they suffer the horrendous loss of family, but a fundamental right was cavalierly dismissed.

In April 1990, they were the elated parents–to-be, Richard 28 and Nancy 25. Richard was shot execution style in the back of his head with a .357 magnum. Nancy lay helpless in the corner of their basement floor, pleading that the killer spare her unborn child, trying to protect her abdomen.  The nearly 17 year old murderer had no mercy whatsoever, firing directly at her unborn child, whose gender could not be determined due to the extent of damage.

The cold blooded perpetrator fled immediately and bragged to friends that it was ultimately a “thrill kill.” Why not commit the crime right across the street from the police station. THAT is what occurred.   This was a nightmare of the worst kind.  Even before the blended Bishop-Jenkins family considered becoming national spokespeople for victim rights, there was the judicial process to contend with after the deaths, and family members were laid to rest.

You act as “little obedient soldiers.” You comply with all requests. You come to court.  You dress professionally. You are told to keep your composure at all costs. You listen intently. You are shocked when it appears that the victims are being put on trial and that perhaps, “the poor juvenile was an intelligent boy, with an immature brain.”   You fight for the right to be heard.  You sweat the details, as no one really knows who the victims were in this court proceeding, as they are just too busy painting the picture of “the juvenile as victim.”  They talk about the evidence, the forensics, the judicial lingo. They talk about EVERYTHING but the victims who essentially are faceless nameless people in the ground.  You anticipate  your special time to speak…and then… as Jennifer tells it, shortly before their time  to make the victims come alive, they received a phone call saying essentially,  “We are not going to bother with victim impact statements, as  the defendant will receive a mandatory life sentence anyway…. So what’s the point?”  Never mind that it is a clear violation of crime victim’s rights. Never mind that you only heard the brutality of the crime and not our family as the wonderful vibrant people they were and could have been! Never mind all that!

Fast forward to 2016, 26 years later and the Bishop –Jenkins family has not been afforded the opportunity to speak on the record about the tremendous impact this event had and continues to have on their lives. But, there is hope. A re-sentencing hearing will take place in the future.

Donna R. Gore, LadyJustice,Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, Shattered Lives

“LadyJustice” and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins

If this makes you mad. If it leaves you cold with shock and horror, you need to know what your rights truly are, if you are a crime victim today, or “just an ordinary citizen.”

If you are in need of assistance writing your customized victim impact statement, my service is the best investment of your time and financially.

https://donnagore.com/victim-impact-statement-assistance/;

To become familiar with Marsy’s Law in general and what’s happening in your state, please get involved. Go to: http://marsyslaw.us/

Additional References-

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/trial-by-fire

http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/illinois-victims/richard-and-nancy-bishop-langert-baby/

Crime Victimization is NOT a Spectator Sport

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The judge presides over sentencing, applies the law and sets the tone of his/her courtroom. With few exceptions, it’s generally “speak when spoken to” for victims in this process. A victim may request to meet with the judge privately in chambers. However, one is not allowed to cry “foul ball” or “you’re out of order” when victims see inaccuracies or injustices.

The district attorney or state prosecutor represents the interests of the State in a criminal trial against the defendant.  In the State of Connecticut, these officials are appointed by the Criminal Justice Commission with 13 judicial districts.  Chiefs are appointed for 5 years, Deputy Chiefs for 4 years while states’ attorneys serve for a term of 8 years. All other prosecutors are appointed and serve for open-ended terms.

The district attorney will meet with a crime victim family initially. However, often much of the interaction and information is given or filtered through intermediaries such as the detectives assigned to the case or the court-based victim advocate.

I think the prosecutor can be likened to the pitcher of a baseball game, laying out a strategy to strike out the defendant or control the proceeding when it is their turn up at bat.

In our state, the Division of Public Defender Services will provide indigent clients and their children with representation under the state and U.S. Constitution.  Crime victims generally do not have personal knowledge of as to who is representing the defendant, and they rarely communicate with the victim’s family.  The public defender might be portrayed metaphorically as “the catcher” or pitcher” alternately, depending upon who’s up at bat.

The court based victim advocate may accompany families to a trial proceeding and provide information/education and emotional support and also serve as an intermediary between parties.

In this scenario a new crime victim, almost without exception, feels like a fish out of water,  someone who is looking through a  one way glass and is helpless to understand the process, the delays, the putting the victim on trial, a frequently used strategy and the rights afforded the criminal.  This is their new normal for as long as it drags on.

No one can imagine it. No one wants to live it.  However, there is a service designed to help ease the pain when their voice counts the most. During the sentencing phase of a trial, or at a Board of Pardons and Parole Hearing, a victim finally has a chance to speak up.

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.

I’ve created a service program for crime victims and offer assistance in creating a cohesive victim impact statement tailored to the individuals and their cases. I recognize that this could be of great value to not only the crime victim, but to the court system as well.

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/

 

Strange Encounters of the Murderous Kind

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This is a true story of a personal encounter that happened recently. It was one of those strong life coincidences that occurs when you least expect it. Whether it was fate, a communication from heaven or something else, I do not know.

On a recent drizzly Sunday afternoon trying to do my due diligence paying bills a kindly looking gentleman approached me after viewing my car advertisement for my radio show.

As I explained about the show and gave a brief explanation of my Dad’s murder, the man, volunteered that he went to high school with a man by the name of PH. To my shock it was he who said the name, not me, – the same name as the murderer of my father!  (How could this be?) I was truly shocked. I gave no details at that point in time, but yet this man seems to know a great deal about the background of the perpetrator.

The man stated that PH was “a bad seed,” always getting into trouble at a youth.  (In fact I believe he was about only 21 years old or so when he was convicted of my father’s murder.)  His high school peer knew PH would end up in serious trouble.   In fact, he related that PH was one of three brothers – Perry, Harry and Larry…. or something like that. Seriously, they all rhymed!  My mind raced and ironically could only think of Moe, Curly, and Larry of the Three Stooges. But this indeed was no laughing matter!

Apparently at a very young age, running the streets of Hartford, PH was always looking for partner in crime, frequently approaching him saying, “Let’s rob a bank.”    This man was in no way a would-be criminal, but a was a member of the national honor society and was on the path to start a career in the insurance business.

He made it clear that he wanted no part of THAT world. Mr. S. was familiar with the murder of a second man “the perp” committed, after he killed my father. (The second man was an accomplice in a bank robbery who could identify PH, whose body he dumped in a cemetery.) However, “my informant”  was unaware of my Dad’s killing.  He said, in all sincerity, ,”Ya’know, the word on the street is that PH killed other people, he just got caught for these.” I definitely believed that statement from the way PH acted at the parole hearing.   Mr. S. asked for a current status report and was about to offer more “tales of yesteryear on the streets of Hartford,” when I stopped him and told him I didn’t want to hear anymore.   He understood my feelings.

My informant did say that he lost a cousin to murder at the West Indian Club in Hartford a couple of years ago as well. I told him he was welcome to check out my website.  Then a strange feeling came over me after hearing all of this information.

This man had no reason to lie to me. He appeared to know details about the perp and it certainly sounded believable to me. But then, I am a trusting person at heart, despite homicide. We exchanged business cards.

I couldn’t help but think as he drove away, if I had not chosen to do this mundane errand on this day, at this exact time, I never would have known this additional information about “the perp” after 34 years!  Life can be very strange indeed.  But there must have been a reason… only time will tell!