Ad­vo­cates pro­vide a guid­ing hand for vic­tims

Some have gone ‘through low­est point of their life’

The Day - - REGION - By KAREN FLORIN Day Staff Writer

Vic­tim Ser­vices Ad­vo­cate Stephanie Bar­ber strides briskly be­tween her of­fice and court­rooms on New Lon­don’s his­toric Hunt­ing­ton Street on any given week­day, some­how mak­ing more noise than much larger peo­ple.

She also makes her­self heard when ad­vo­cat­ing for crime vic­tims dur­ing closed-door plea bar­gain­ing ses­sions.

Bar­ber, 40, has spent her en­tire ca­reer help­ing crime vic­tims re­cover to the great­est ex­tent pos­si­ble. She joined the Ju­di­cial Branch’s Of­fice of Vic­tim Ser­vices four years ago af­ter work­ing for 12 years with the Con­necti­cut Al­liance to End Sex­ual Vi­o­lence.

She is work­ing with sev­eral fam­i­lies who lost loved ones to mur­der, in­clud­ing the sur­vivors of three mem­bers of the Lindquist fam­ily who were killed in a shock­ingly vi­o­lent se­ries of crimes in Griswold in De­cem­ber 2017. She also ad­vo­cates for vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault, rob­bery and other ma­jor crimes.

“Some­thing hor­ri­ble has hap-

pened to them or some­one they love, and that’s what brings them here to us,” Bar­ber said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at the court­house. “We just want to make the process less trau­ma­tiz­ing, not ad­di­tion­ally trau­ma­tiz­ing, and make sure they re­ceive ev­ery­thing they’re en­ti­tled to.”

For the past 40 years, Con­necti­cut has pro­vided ser­vices to en­sure that vic­tims’ voices are heard in state court­rooms and they are com­pen­sated for their losses. The Of­fice of Vic­tim Ser­vices, which is part of the state Ju­di­cial Branch, cel­e­brated its 40th an­niver­sary this past week and an­nounced it soon would be re­leas­ing a se­ries of videos for vic­tims.

Vic­tims of crime, who often feel as if the peo­ple ac­cused of hurt­ing them or their loved one have all the rights when it comes to court pro­ceed­ings, say the ser­vices of the ad­vo­cates are in­valu­able.

John Aberg of Lis­bon, whose grand­son An­drew Michael Slyter was mur­dered in Old Lyme in 2007, is fea­tured in the soon-to-be re­leased videos, which are de­signed to fa­mil­iar­ize clients with the process.

‘Thrown into tur­moil’

“When vi­o­lent crime hap­pens, peo­ple are thrown into tur­moil, shocked,” Aberg says, in part, in one of the videos. “They can’t con­cen­trate on what they read or hear. It’s hard to get out of bed or face an­other day. In our grand­son Andy’s case, the court-based ad­vo­cates were with us ev­ery step of the way, from ar­raign­ment to sen­tenc­ing.”

Ready with boxes of tis­sues and re­as­sur­ing pats on the back, Bar­ber and three other court-based vic­tim ad­vo­cates in the New Lon­don Ju­di­cial Dis­trict stand with crime vic­tims and their fam­i­lies dur­ing dif­fi­cult court pro­ceed­ings. The vic­tim ad­vo­cates ex­plain the process to peo­ple who often have never stepped into a crim­i­nal court­room and help their clients se­cure fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion for crime-re­lated ex­penses such as coun­sel­ing, med­i­cal bills and fu­neral costs.

“The vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates serve a vi­tal role in the court process,” said Judge Hil­lary B. Strack­bein, chief ad­min­is­tra­tive judge in the New Lon­don Ju­di­cial Dis­trict. “They nav­i­gate the ex­tremely dif­fi­cult cases in such a pro­fes­sional man­ner, I can­not imagine the sys­tem work­ing prop­erly with­out them. I rely on their ad­vice be­cause they are the clos­est to the vic­tims and can re­lay the po­si­tions of the vic­tims to the court. Vic­tims have con­sti­tu­tional rights and the vic­tim ad­vo­cates pro­tect those rights.”

Bar­ber and Vic­tim Ser­vices Ad­vo­cate LeeAnn Verte­feuille work at the Hunt­ing­ton Street court­house with vic­tims of ma­jor crimes, in­clud­ing mur­der and sex­ual as­sault, and with men and women seek­ing civil pro­tec­tion or­ders against un­re­lated peo­ple who pose a threat.

Verte­feuille, 34, brought four years of com­mu­nity-based vic­tim ad­vo­cacy ex­pe­ri­ences to her po­si­tion with the Ju­di­cial Branch in 2015. She worked un­til re­cently at the Geo­graph­i­cal Area 10 court­house on Broad Street in New Lon­don, where she earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a fierce ad­vo­cate for vic­tims of drunken driv­ers.

“As a whole, when some­one ex­pe­ri­ences trauma and grief, they feel very pow­er­less,” Verte­feuille said. “As ad­vo­cates, we can help re­store some power and con­trol back to the vic­tim through ed­u­ca­tion, in­for­ma­tion and ad­vo­cacy. We pro­vide the ser­vices and help them nav­i­gate through a very for­eign sys­tem at the low­est point of their life.”

Above and be­yond

Pros­e­cu­tor David J. Smith said Verte­feuille goes above and be­yond in terms of treat­ing her clients with re­spect and ad­vo­cat­ing for their wishes be­fore the court and with pros­e­cu­tors.

“I have to say, there have been times when she has taken a stance much more pro­nounced than what I thought the case war­ranted,” Smith said. “She ad­vo­cated strongly to­wards what she felt was in the best in­ter­est of the vic­tims, even if it wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily what the pros­e­cu­tor or the judges might feel.”

Johanna Krebs, 38, held a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions at Con­necti­cut’s chap­ter of Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing for 13 years, be­fore she was hired in De­cem­ber to re­place Verte­feuille as vic­tim ser­vices ad­vo­cate at GA10.

“Dur­ing my time at MADD, I did di­rect vic­tim ser­vices, and it was one of the pieces I en­joyed tremen­dously,” Krebs said. “En­sur­ing that peo­ple who have been im­pacted by some­one else’s ac­tions are heard is tremen­dous.”

Crim­i­nal de­fen­dants have the right to face their ac­cuser in court, and some­times vic­tims have to re­live their trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences and face ag­gres­sive cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by de­fense lawyers, all while be­ing stared at by the of­fender in a court­room full of strangers.

Corene Leone, 57, vic­tim ser­vices ad­vo­cate at the Geo­graph­i­cal Area 21 court­house in Nor­wich has rep­re­sented thou­sands of clients since join­ing the Ju­di­cial Branch in 2006. She brought 11 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a fam­ily vi­o­lence vic­tim ad­vo­cate to the po­si­tion. This past week, she sat with the fam­ily who lost their son in a drunken driv­ing crash while a woman pleaded guilty to the crime. She is help­ing the fam­ily pre­pare for the up­com­ing sen­tenc­ing.

“I would like to think that a crime vic­tim in­ter­ac­tion with me made his/her ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter than if they did not have the ser­vices of an Of­fice of Vic­tim Ser­vices Ad­vo­cate,” Leone said in an email. “I am very for­tu­nate to have a unique job in the com­mu­nity that I re­side in that al­lows me to make a dif­fer­ence in some­one’s life ev­ery day.”

The Of­fice of Vic­tim Ser­vices also is ac­tive out­side of court­houses. Since 2010, the of­fice has over­seen a Sex­ual As­sault Foren­sic Ex­am­in­ers (SAFE) Pro­gram in which cer­ti­fied nurses and doc­tors con­duct foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tions of rape vic­tims and spe­cially trained vic­tim ad­vo­cates pro­vide emo­tional sup­port, in­for­ma­tion and re­fer­rals.

The of­fice also pro­vides an au­to­mated ser­vice, called the Con­necti­cut Statewide Au­to­mated Vic­tim In­for­ma­tion and No­ti­fi­ca­tion Sys­tem, or SAVIN, to help vic­tims and oth­ers keep track of ac­tiv­ity in crim­i­nal cases.

A video record­ing of the Jan. 4 state Of­fice of Vic­tim Ser­vices’ 40th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion at the Leg­isla­tive Of­fice Build­ing in Hart­ford is avail­able at bit.ly/CTVSan­niver­sary.

DANA JENSEN THE DAY

New Lon­don Ju­di­cial Dis­trict Vic­tim Ser­vices ad­vo­cates Johanna Krebs, left, LeeAnn Verte­feuille, cen­ter, and Stephanie Bar­ber on Thurs­day at New Lon­don Su­pe­rior Court.

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