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VICTIM RELATED EVENTS

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The National Victim Law Bar Association's annual national conference is in Chicago in October 2008

The National Organization of Victim Assistance has victim related training and conferences and events all year long.

Join the national organization Parents of Murdered Children at its National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims Family members every September 25 - Click here to contact Illinois POMC chapters.

Click Here to find Victims Groups meeting around Illinois

VICTIMS VOICES SPEAKING OUT

A local Victim and Advocate writes an OpEd that is published in the Chicago Tribune:

Gun violence is an epidemic
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/letters/chi-1115ledeletternov15,0,4538509,full.story
November 15, 2007

Gun violence is an epidemic in Chicago and America today.

In 1992, I lost my son to this epidemic and began my journey in the world of advocacy.

I have been working diligently since then with many incredibly talented people who are as dedicated to eradicating this plague from our society as I am.

However, I must admit that I am totally worn out by marches, by community pleas, by press attention, by the appeal of victims, by community activism and by more headlines that detail the deaths of innocents.

Who gets blamed for this crisis?

We blame the gangs.

We blame the educational system.

We blame the lack of structure provided by parents.

We blame single-parent families, drugs, the media, Hollywood.

We blame rap music.

We march for sensible gun laws to protect us.

We hold community vigils when another child dies.

But community vigils are not going to change the illegal manufacturing, marketing and distribution of guns that are intended to kill people. This will be accomplished only through a comprehensive political strategy, one that can outmaneuver, outspend and outwork the gun lobby.

We need to understand everything about illegal guns and gun sales. Why do we allow guns designed to rapidly fire? Why can they get into the hands of criminals and children?

We must engage our legislators in the creation and passage of sensible guns laws. We must pay attention to how our legislators vote on the gun issue and hold them accountable for their actions. Unless our legislators participate, the violence will continue.

Unfortunately this means we have to raise enough money to offset the millions that our elected officials now get from the gun lobby. But politicians listen to their constituents and won't vote the gun interests if they see that people are fed up with the carnage wrought by weak regulation. A strategy that combines advocacy with money can force politicians to stop straddling the fence on gun issues.

We also need to get the message out that sensible gun laws work for all citizens, including those who own guns for hunting or self-protection.

These legal gun owners need to join us to insist that the right to own firearms must be countered by sensible ownership protections. Without their support, we will never adequately address this issue, and the killing of our children will continue.

Thomas C. Vanden Berk
Brady Chicago Committee
 

Our  Response to the Washington Post article against victims rights (below):
 
I am troubled by the patronizing tone and misinformation in the editorial "Where Victims' Rights Go Wrong" (Barry Boss, Monday, April 23, 2007). I am a murder victims family member, active in victim advocacy, and in the spirit of this national week that we try to pay attention to the needs and concerns of victims, especially one week after the Virginia Tech tragedy that has traumatized the nation, one has to question the wisdom of the message, and the timing of this article. Red flags should go up anytime anyone says "I sympathize with victims . . .BUT . . .".
 
Further, the author is quite wrong - the right to speak in court (victim impact statements), the right to consult (be told what the prosecution is planning and share their own points of view) and the right to be supported and informed throughout the entire trial is NOT tantamount to being on the prosecution team.
 
Victims remain some of the most neglected members in our society and the advances in recognition of victims rights do not even come close to placing victims in a position of inappropriate "influence" on the cases being tried.
 
One need look no farther than the current headlines in Chicago where States Attorney Richard Devine has sought the death penalty in the infamous Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine, despite the fact that the victims families, 5 out of 7 of them, want no death penalty in that case.
 
And victims families will often want harsher sentences, as well, for the offenders. It is not uncommon that victims will feel that no punishment can be hard enough, because often it can never come close to what they have suffered.
 
These cases are always tempered by the full and whole judicial process that represents the entire citizenry.
 
Mr. Boss is a defense attorney who clearly has come to see victims families as the enemy, likely because he has not been properly trained how to understand and react to their trauma.
 
I have worked in training with Defense Attorneys so that they can learn to understand and not be threatened by victims' trauma. They must learn not to see them as adversaries in the case, but, if the victims so choose, as participants.
 
It is incredibly important to remember that victims were made participants in the case by the choices of the offender, not by their own choice.
 
Even the most basic understanding of psychology reveals the deepest links between the well-being of the victims and the fate of the offender. That horrible relationship, created by the offender, has to be handled with the utmost compassion and delicacy and respect.
 
Victims Rights are Human Rights. We cannot expect the human and constitutional rights of the offenders to be respected in any system that does not also respect the rights of the victims.
 
Victims need to know what is going on with their case. They need to feel heard. They need support. They need to be able to understand.
 
And offenders have rights - the right to counsel, trial, due process, all of the constitutional protections.
 
And if all those things happen, then the judicial system, which does not and should not make decisions based on what are the wishes of the victims families alone, but on what is just for society as a whole, can know that it has helped to heal the injuries done when people choose to do evil things - to hurt each other.
 
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins
www.illinoisvictims.org

 
 
 
Where Victims' Rights Go Wrong
Washington Post By Barry Boss
Monday, April 23, 2007; A17

 
Since 1981, the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crime has dedicated a week in April to recognizing crime victims' rights. The week -- this year's observance began yesterday -- is usually marked by rallies, candlelight vigils and other activities intended to promote victims' rights and to honor crime victims and those who work on their behalf.
Victims deserve the recognition that this week provides, and they deserve sympathy and compensation for their losses. But I am increasingly concerned about what I believe they do not deserve, which is the right to serve as de facto prosecutors, a practice that is quietly insinuating itself into the legal system.
Our desire to increase victims' rights is closely related to our national obsession with being "tough on crime." While this mantra makes for good political rhetoric, it often leads to illogical and irrational criminal justice policies. Being "tough on crime" has led to harsh mandatory minimum sentences in federal drug cases that have disproportionately punished minorities. It has resulted in first-time offenders serving life sentences even though their crimes involved no weapon and resulted in no physical injuries; in 6-year-olds being arrested for tantrums at school; and, worst of all, in innocent people on death row.
Courts have increasingly become more cognizant of the rights of victims. In 1996, restitution became mandatory for a variety of federal crimes. In 2002, Congress provided the victims of violent crimes and sexual abuse the right to speak at a defendant's sentencing, even though courts already had latitude in any kind of case to permit victims to speak at sentencing or to receive information from victims before sentences were imposed. And last year, the issue reached the Supreme Court in a murder case in which the victim's supporters had attended the trial wearing buttons that displayed a picture of the victim (the court avoided addressing whether such conduct is prejudicial).
The latest manifestation of our "tough on crime" policy comes in the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which will implement the 2004 Crime Victims' Rights Act. One U.S. district judge ruled that the statute renders victims "independent participant[s] in the proceedings" and "commands that victims should be treated equally with the defendant, defense counsel, and the prosecutor."
Under the act, victims have the right to be heard in court on questions of bond, plea agreements and sentencing, and they have the right to confer with prosecutors about a case. If victims are unhappy with how a prosecutor or trial court has treated them, they are permitted to seek relief in the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the appellate court must rule on their application within 72 hours (an unprecedented remedy).
Thus, under the act, victims at a minimum become a member of the prosecution team and, indeed, have significant leverage over the professional prosecutors. The president and many in Congress support an amendment for crime victims' rights that would incorporate several of these points into the Constitution.
While we may support the notion that victims' rights should be at least as strong as those of defendants, within the context of the criminal justice system these rights are mutually exclusive. Any rights provided to the victim must come at the expense of the rights provided to a defendant. Indeed, providing the victim with a role in the prosecution assumes a crime has been committed, despite the bedrock constitutional proposition that the accused is presumed innocent.
When we turn victims into members of the prosecution team, we distort a process, so carefully constructed more than 200 years ago, that eschewed vigilante justice or prosecution for personal ends in favor of prosecution by the sovereign with significant rights afforded to the accused. We expect prosecutors to make decisions about whom to prosecute and what types of sentences to seek based on myriad considerations, including, but far from limited to, the interests of victims. Where victims play a controlling role in the prosecution, the consideration of those factors no longer focuses on what is best for society but rather on what victims need or want as "justice."
I sympathize with individuals victimized by criminals. I understand their anger, outrage and desire for vengeance, particularly when faced with the kind of malevolence displayed last week at Virginia Tech. Securing assistance and compensation for victims is an unquestionable priority, and we need to promote healing to the greatest extent possible.
But the criminal justice system cannot focus on the victim; rather, it must follow its rich tradition of protecting society as a whole, ensuring that justice is achieved in accordance with the Constitution. As we appropriately focus on improving the plight of crime victims this week, let's not forget about the plight of the falsely accused or of the criminal justice system itself.
The writer, a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, is a former assistant federal public defender and former co-chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission's Practitioners' Advisory Group
 

Below are some letters from victims' family members telling their stories and lending their encouragement to our efforts in fighting for victims in Illinois:

OUR LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
 
Rex Huppke's otherwise excellent article (Jan 26, "A Father Re-Lives Nightmare")about the dangers of early release of murderers assured Illinoisans that a similar parole of killers couldn't happen here. In fact, an effort to reinstate parole for killers is actually now well underway in Illinois. A state legislative committee was studying such a possibility this year. Only victims' outcry removed that option from the study.  Now parole advocates, undaunted, are launching a campaign to go directly to the legislature. Like the father depicted in the story, Illinois victims families are now having to relive their trauma as they fight this misguided effort that could easily result in the same disastrous consequences.
 
Gerri Flynn, Rockford
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Northfield

 

A letter from a murdered heroic law enforcement officers about her struggles with the parole process:

I was filled with so much information yesterday I really do not know where to start. So here is the petition I have been having signed number 1.  I will scan some of the petitions from the Sheriff and other Government Officials on Monday.

Also attached is the letter I received from the review board before I received a call about a parole hearing saying I would be notified of a release date.

It took me approximately two weeks to get service from victim services at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. Shunique stated that Bacino asked for an "undetermined time in March" for a parole hearing.

On 2/23/2007 Shunique called and stated "Bacino's lawyers have asked for a continuance for May." When I asked for a specific time in May, Shunique said she did not have May's calendar in front of her, then she dug a little deeper in her desk and and said " Oh May 16 approximately, but you know things change and you will be notified."

You can get exact quotes from Jorge Montes from Chris Booker with the Chicago Tribune.

Chris Booker stated to me last year that Mr. Montes stated that "He is just to old to be in prison and needs to go home." For his exact words I need to get a hold of Chris.

In 1992 when I went to my first parole hearing in Galesburg, IL, I signed in as a victim of his crime and they put me in with the prisoner population and told Bacino he had a visitor so I ended up speaking with him face to face. When it was my turn to speak to the parole board, at that time there were 4-6 people hearing the case I was told that I need not worry he will never get out of jail. That was the last parole hearing I ever attended. After that my family never received another letter from the review board.

There is a start - let me know what I need to do next.

Jennifer S

ED NOTE: Jennifer and her family mounted a successful challenge to the release of Mr. Bacino in 2007. They are now preparing for the 2008 hearing after only a few months respite from this battle.

Jennifer, Hi, my name is Donna Marquez.  I am with the IL Chapter of COPS, and the Chicago Police Gold Star Families.  My brother was serving a warrant on March 18, 2002, He was shot 4 times by a 77 year old sick man.  He died a few hours into surgery.  Our lives have been forever changed by this horrible tragedy.  I recently became the President of the Gold Star Families of CPD, please let me know what we can do to assist you.  Thank you.
 
Sincerely
 
Donna Marquez

I am Jennifer S's mom, Terry.  We look forward to rejoicing where this will take us, because we have all been put into this forum for a better cause.  We will follow your advise and I am so proud of the groundwork that Jennifer has already covered with the advise you have provided her with besides her own gut instincts.
 
She is very determined, and this time Mike's voice, along with ours, and yours will be heard for all the victims we need to represent.  I am so grateful you have already had a voice before the General Assembly. 
 
I regret that my daughters, who were toddlers at the time, have to devote time away from their families, to fight for OUR rights.  No amount of good citizenship, law abiding perfectionism will EARN any of US an early "EARNED RELEASE." 
 
You and my daughter have my undivided attention and I will devote all the time you need from me for this cause.  All our loved ones who experienced their last breath at the hand of these murderers will be heard through our voices. 
 
Thank you and Bless you,
 
Terry L. (Mayborne) R

 My father, Alvin B Bell, was robbed and brutally murder on June 21, 1989 by a neighborhood friend, Ernest Sims. Sims was convicted and sentenced to the Illinois Correctional Center in Centralia for a measly 36 years. To my disbelief and heartache he is being released on March29, 2007 after only serving 18 years. I am appalled that they would do this without any input from us, the family. I have started to relive every moment of that time with pain and anger. It took me 10 years to get the images of my father that night out of my head. It's amazing how I remember it so vividly like it was yesterday, the blood. I always thought we would be notified regarding the parole hearing and as a family could stop it or at least try to, for my father's sake. How could they take that from us? The sad part about this is that the parole board didn't notify us of Sims release. The Illinois State's Attorney's Office Victim-Witness Assistance looked through the file of the case and notified us. To my disgust, they informed me that due to new legislation victims and the family of the victims no longer have the right to speak out at the parole hearings for ourselves or our loved ones lost by these senseless acts. I have only 1 month to try and protest this for my father's sake, I owe him that. This cold-hearted murderer will be released at the age of 39, still a young man, to live, have a family, grow old and enjoy his grandchildren. My father was entitled to that also and no one had the right to take it away, no one but God. I always consoled myself with the thought that he would be a broken-down old man when he got out. I don't have that anymore.

My father, Alvin B Bell, was a hard-working and good man who took care of his family, supported his friends and cared about his community. A businessman of the community for almost 30 years. Through his membership to different organizations he conducted fundraisers and contributed to various causes. He was well respected and loved. To be brutally beaten and left to die, my father deserved better than that. The sad part about all of this, my father was more of a father to that man than his on father and he had to audacity to raised his hand to him and take him away from all of us in a cruel and heartless manner.
When you take a life you should not be entitled to a life. I believe, the least that these murderers can do is the full term of their conviction, however little it is. No amount of time in jail can repay a life but it is all we are given. This has changed me, I never really supported the death penalty, even after my father's murder but I have become an advocate now. The life of a victim is not worth anything to the judicial system. I wish I knew what to do to fight this decision. I know in my heart I will see this man on the street and I will loose whats left of my mind. I pray the Lord helps me to accept this and move on but how can anyone move on when the lost is so great and the pain is so deep.

Alvin Bell's Daughter,

Terry R:
 
I have been reading the history of HJR80 and truly appreciate your insight, strength and guidance that you have offered to other victims.  Right now our emotions are peaking, but we keep reminding ourselves to stay with the facts you have presented us with and document our notifications and conversations with PRB.  Besides my husband being murdered, I have a current co-worker who was shot three times in the face (a female police officer) and left for dead.  Several major surgery's, court, emotions, etc. has left her with a very strong faith.  My fear is she firmly believes her perpetrator will never step out of prison.  We also work with another officers family (Rockford Police officer Kevin Rice) who was killed by a man who had just been released from prison for killing someone else.  It breaks my heart to think that her young children may someday face what my Jennifer (Sutkay) is facing.  It is just WRONG!!  My other daughter, Jen's older sister is currently in emotional turmoil.  The effects are just now reaching her 30 years later.  She is a mess.  When she saw her father's murderer on video, her grief was so raw, you would have thought she had just received word of her father's death.  We do have her in counseling, at our expense, not the state's.  Although, Bacino brags about the counseling he can receive in prison for whatever it is he needs!!  I take some responsibility for not seeking grief counseling sooner for them to help process this all, but then it was not offered or heard of, and I truly believed in our court system with a jury and Judge that I would NEVER have to worry about this issue again. 
 
I am only sharing thoughts with you so you will see your ground work has been set forth for so many others and the experience in your grief and determination to direct your frustration in a more productive manner will worth every effort and tear.  You truly have our support and we will work with the other IllinoisVictims.org families to bring the awareness to a broader population.