Crime vic­tims de­serve our sup­port

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS - By Steven T. Mar­shall Alabama At­tor­ney Gen­eral

Na­tional Crime Vic­tims’ Rights Week in early April is an im­por­tant time to rec­og­nize the is­sues fac­ing vic­tims of vi­o­lent crime. How­ever, for those of us in law en­force­ment and those whose ca­reers have been ded­i­cated to seek­ing jus­tice for in­di­vid­u­als who have been harmed, a fo­cus on vic­tims is not a one week propo­si­tion. They are our pri­or­ity 365 days a year.

As a prose­cu­tor for 16 years, I have seen first-hand the phys­i­cal and emo­tional toll vi­o­lent crime takes on vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. How­ever, law en­force­ment, prose­cu­tors and vic­tim ser­vice providers are mo­ti­vated be­cause we can make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence by sup­port­ing those who have been harmed. This year’s na­tional theme of Strength, Re­silience, Jus­tice re­flects a vi­sion for our re­sponse to vic­tims’ needs.

At the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice, we play an es­sen­tial role in mak­ing this vi­sion a re­al­ity. Sta­tis­tics tell part of the story. In 2016 alone, our Of­fice of Vic­tim As­sis­tance han­dled over 1,200 in­quiries from crime vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. We also as­sisted nearly 750 vic­tims at Alabama Board of Par­dons and Paroles hear­ings. Our Crim­i­nal Ap­peals sec­tion rep­re­sented the State in more than 1,600 ap­peals and re­lated mat­ters with a 95 per­cent rate of up­hold­ing con­vic­tions in the Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals, and a 97 per­cent suc­cess rate in the Alabama Supreme Court.

Yet we are but one part of the broader ef­fort that ex­ists to pro­tect vic­tims and en­sure they are heard. Lo­cal law en­force­ment and district at­tor­neys are the true foot sol­diers in this fight. These men and women have a call­ing. Many risk their lives daily to ad­min­is­ter jus­tice for vic­tims, while oth­ers fight this bat­tle in court­rooms across the state to see that of­fend­ers are held ac­count­able and jus­tice is served. Once cases are made, vic­tims ad­vo­cacy groups, such as Alabama’s Vic­tims of Crime and Le­niency (VO­CAL), per­form valu­able ser­vice in pro­vid­ing moral sup­port and as­sis­tance to vi­o­lent crime vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. Vic­tim ser­vice of­fi­cers in district at­tor­ney’s of­fices are also ded­i­cated to the needs of vic­tims and their fam­i­lies.

But what seems un­spo­ken by all of us who come into con­tact with vic­tims is what we learn from them. Vic­tims who have faced the worst sit­u­a­tions imag­in­able teach us in­valu­able lessons of strength, re­silience and jus­tice.

I saw STRENGTH just a few weeks ago as I stood with the vic­tims of Jef­fer­son County child mo­lester Don Cor­ley in op­pos­ing his early re­lease. Cor­ley was a man who was en­trusted by his church and the Boy Scouts to men­tor youth but abused that trust. I watched as three for­mer boy scout troop mem­bers who he had been sex­u­ally abused tes­ti­fied against his pa­role be­fore tele­vi­sion cam­eras and a large crowd. Each spoke can­didly about what this man had done to them. Each showed true courage and strength by speak­ing openly about their worst night­mare, dis­cussing things most men would never want to ad­mit pub­licly. Be­cause of their strength, pa­role was de­nied and the of­fender will serve his full sen­tence.

I saw RE­SILIENCE dur­ing a re­cent visit with the fam­ily of vic­tims of the 1996 Huntsville “cell phone mur­ders” who were in Mont­gomery for the oral ar­gu­ments in the ap­peal of one of the per­pe­tra­tors’ death sen­tences. In com­mit­ting his crimes, he, along with two other men, held seven peo­ple at gun­point for nearly two hours, as­sault­ing, tor­tur­ing and then shoot­ing the vic­tims with 19 rounds, all over a stolen cell phone. The crime oc­curred over 20 years ago, but the fam­ily has per­se­vered, never wa­ver­ing in their de­sire to see that the con­victed mur­der­ers re­ceive the pun­ish­ment the judge im­posed.

I know JUS­TICE be­cause of a boy named Uriel who died a day af­ter his first birth­day. His mother and her boyfriend brought him to a hos­pi­tal say­ing that he had fallen off the bed and hit his head — a bed that ac­tu­ally was a mat­tress ly­ing on the floor. The au­topsy showed bruis­ing from head to toe, two frac­tured ribs, burn and hu­man bite marks and blunt force trauma to the head. I had a chance to ob­tain jus­tice for Uriel and en­sure that those who com­mit­ted that of­fense would never harm any­one else. This lit­tle boy taught me that I had been given the solemn re­spon­si­bil­ity to secure jus­tice for those who have been harmed and to em­brace that im­por­tant role for all vic­tims that I served.

STRENGTH. RE­SILIENCE. JUS­TICE. Go­ing for­ward let us take strength from one an­other, be re­silient by our com­mon pur­pose and con­tinue to be in­stru­ments for jus­tice for all vic­tims.

Steven T. Mar­shall is Alabama’s 48th At­tor­ney Gen­eral.

The Earth gets 100 tons heav­ier every day due to fall­ing space dust. “Just Plain Neat In­for­ma­tion” supplied by a lo­cal reader.

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