Each of us in life will experience trauma of some type. The trauma of emotional or physical abuse, a catastrophic or debilitating illness or injury, death of a close friend or relative, a marital break-up or like millions of Americans over the past few decade’s survivors of a murdered friend or loved family member.
Sadly, many Americans have or will fall in all of the category’s listed and thankfully for most of them are able to seek help in overcoming their trauma’s, through the assistance of mental, and medical health professions, a variety of support groups dedicated to the unique type of trauma they have experienced, physical or mental therapy, there are numerous resources available.
For the survivors of a murdered loved one, (of which I am) I find it most difficult in trying to deal or cope with this particular trauma that has been cast upon me. Why, one might ask? To me, it all comes down to one word or experience, re-victimization. Please let me explain exactly why I feel the way I do.
First, of course in order to be categorized a victim one has to be victimized in some manner. To those of us that have lost a loved one to homicide the moment they were murdered and especially when we were made aware of it our lives were forever changed as we were forced to enter the world of murder victim survivors.
Then after the first few weeks, months or years of trying to understand and cope with our newly found places in life while our grief and sorrow became a little more tolerable it never goes away as many of us turn to trying to help other victims and society in general by advocating for certain causes to prevent what happened to us from happening to others. Or we strive to get help from our elected officials in passage of laws that are tough on crime and the criminals who have committed them. We are merely seeking justice on behalf of our lost loved ones since they are no longer able to do so for themselves, and sadly there are many survivors of victims that will never have the chance at justice as their loved ones murderers are unknown and remain at-large, their only comfort being there isn’t a statute of limitations on murder and perhaps many years later they will receive justice.
As traumatic of what victim survivors are forced to go through as they travel down the road seeking justice there will be what sometimes seem as never ending challenges, roadblocks and detours as they try and find their way out of the maze called the American criminal justice system. When they are finally able to reach what should be the journey’s end and the murderer(s) of their loved ones have been apprehended, charged, tried, convicted and sentenced the ugly head of re-victimization pops up.
No, I am not talking about re-victimization being done by those that have been tried and convicted harming them again; instead I am speaking of the criminal justice system re-victimizing them. Let me explain further.
My family and I were introduced to victimization while living in California in 1993 when my son was murdered. From the years 1993-1996 we went through the trial of our son’s murderer starting in the juvenile court system, progressing through the adult court, conviction and sentencing ultimately ending at the appellate court level after prevailing successfully throughout this journey. After this journey seemed to be ended we had to look forward to revisiting losing our son and the criminal justice system’s process which is weighted heavily in favor of the convicted murderer, some 19 years later as a result of a consideration for parole hearing conducted by a state parole board. As our son’s advocate and survivor’s we had the right to attend the parole hearing that was held at the prison where the murderer was incarcerated. By this time we no longer lived in California and we had to conform our schedule with that of the parole board’s and travel more than a thousand miles to attend the hearing. As parents, we felt we owed it to our son and the public’s safety to appear before the board along with the murderer to argue that he never should be allowed to be released back out into society as a free person. It is an understatement when I say being in the same room as the murderer, once more coming face to face with him is one of the most difficult things I will ever have to do. As a result of California’s Prop 9 commonly referred to as Marsy’s Law named after the daughter of a friend of ours who was murdered just a few years before our son we were successful in convincing the parole board with the expert testimony and help from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office not to allow parole of his murderer. In fact, the parole board also ruled that our son’s murderer would not be eligible for another parole consideration hearing for an additional seven years as provided by Marsy’s law.
Now, comes the trauma and re-victimization part of the equation of being a survivor of a murdered loved one. For the years since Marsy’s law was approved by the voters of California and became a part of that state’s constitution there has been an effort supported by persons and groups via lawsuits seeking to overturn that law by saying the provisions in it that allowed the parole board to have discretion to deny a parole consideration hearing for periods of three, five, seven and ten years after the initial one depending on the seriousness and nature of the crime committed. Recently what has happened is a U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton in his ruling has struck down key parts of Marsy’s Law, most notably the one that gives the parole board discretion that allows them to restrict additional parole consideration hearings for longer than one year. Additionally, his ruling has also taken away the Governor’s authority to review and reverse paroles in murder cases. What this means to victim survivors like my family and me is if we are interested in exercising our right to attend parole board hearings held on behalf of our son’s murderer if Judge Karlton’s ruling is upheld we will be forced to at great expense to us as senior citizens on fixed incomes to travel back to California annually if we want to again convince the parole board members not to release him. Also, due to advance age and worsening health conditions it may be physically impossible for us to attend hearings each year. If we don’t or can’t attend future hearings I have had enough experience as a victim’s rights advocate to know that board members who are more sympathetic to the rights of criminals than they are of victims will make note of our absence and take it as a sign that we don’t oppose our son’s murderer’s parole.
Another example of more concern being shown for the criminals than is for the victims really hit home hard for California victim survivors of murdered loved ones that were murdered by juveniles that were tried as adults and given a sentence of Life without the possibility of Parole or LWOP as it is commonly referred to when a law was passed and signed by Governor Brown in 2012. This law, SB109 (Senate Bill) overturned all the LWOP sentences handed down and mandated that these murderers, many whose crimes were so heinous goes beyond description as to the brutality they were, must receive a chance of being paroled via being allowed a parole consideration hearing. For many of the survivors of the juvenile murderers it has been at least a couple of decades since their loved ones murderers were sentenced and sent to an adult prison. To me, this is the ultimate example of a victim again being traumatized and re-victimized with a new travesty of justice being forced upon them.
As I have mentioned throughout this thesis far too many politicians, sociologists, social engineers and civil libertarians are dedicated to the proposition and is that society should treat murderers differently and with more empathy than they do their victims. To them it matters not how many times we can and are re-victimized and as a result suffer trauma once more.
As a survivor of a murder victim I hope that anyone reading my thoughts never is cast into a life as we have been forced into and must endure the ultimate indignity of being traumatized and re-victimized over and over again.
Ralph L. Myers