March focuses on victims' rights

25th anniversary of act to fund services

Staff WriterApril 30, 2009 

  • North Carolina is one of 32 states with a declaration of victims' rights. It states that victims have:

    The right as prescribed by law to be informed of and to be present at court proceedings of the accused.

    The right to be heard at sentencing of the accused in the manner prescribed by law and at other times as prescribed by law or deemed appropriate by the court.

    The right as prescribed by law to receive restitution.

    The right as prescribed by law to be given information about the crime, how the criminal justice system works, the rights of victims, and the availability of services for victims.

    The right as prescribed by law to receive information about the conviction or final disposition and sentence of the accused.

    The right as prescribed by law to receive notification of escape, release, proposed parole or pardon of the accused, or notice of a reprieve or commutation of the accused's sentence.

    The right as prescribed by law to present their views and concerns to the governor or agency considering any action that could result in the release of the accused, prior to such action becoming effective.

    The right as prescribed by law to confer with the prosecution.

    Source: N.C. Victim Assistance Network

— Diane Jones still sheds a tear. Mina Hampton is thankful.

Both women had very different encounters with the criminal justice system after their sons were killed, but they say victim services in Durham have has improved in recent years.

Jones and Hampton, members of the Durham chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, plan to march against violence and attend a candlelight vigil at Durham police headquarters tonight as part of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

This year's event focuses on the 25th anniversary of the federal Victims of Crime Act, which created a fund to support programs for crime victims. programs. The fund, financed by penalties criminals pay, reimburses victims for counseling, funerals and lost wages, and helps fund programs such as rape crisis centers.

Residents need to know what rights they have, because no one knows when they will become a victim, said Jones, whose son was killed in 1997.

"When you come into the murder, you're in a confused state, and you don't know one minute to the next what to do," she said. "You're in a place you've never been to before."

Investigators gave few details and mostly focused on her son's criminal past, Jones said. It was more than over a year before she heard from the lead detective again, she said. Her son David Bullock's killing remains unsolved.

After her son Tom Hampton Jr. was killed in 1994, Hampton said, a detective walked her through the judicial process. But she had difficulty finding a support group until a pastor recommended Parents of Murdered Children.

"They spoke to you as a victim," she said. "They were kind and gentle and encouraging."

The support group is one of a number of local resources that include the Durham Crisis Response Center, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Durham-based N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Police Department's Victim Services Unit responds to robberies, rapes and homicides, and works with victims until their cases reach court. Its members help officers with death notifications and refer victims to emergency shelter, food, counseling and social services.

"It's their right to know what's going on with their case," said Jaqueline per durham police web site Lope, victims services advocate. "We have to provide those rights; otherwise we're not giving them justice."

Victims' rights in Durham gained attention in 2003 when members of Parents of Murdered Children started protesting what they thought were unfair verdicts in homicide trials and attending vigils sponsored by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.

More must be done, Jones and Hampton said.

Victims need a step-by-step explanation of how the justice system works. Cases need to be resolved faster. Plea-bargaining needs to end, they said.

But communication has improved. Homicide detectives now attend Parents of Murdered Children meetings. Tracy Cline, the district attorney, has stopped by.

"They see we're not the enemy, and we see that they're not the enemy, and that's because everyone's talking to each other," Jones said. "We want the violence to stop. We want justice in these cases. And we all have a respect for each other, and that's the main thing."

Tonight's march starts at 8 p.m. at police headquarters, 505 W. Chapel Hill St.

stan.chambers@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2025

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