This comes from Jan Williams, whose son and grandsons were killed last summer at their home in Rowland Heights. Manling Williams, wife and mother of the victims, is awaiting trial for slayings, and could face the death penalty. Here’s Jan’s commentary:
As you know, a little over a year ago my 27 year old son, Neal, and his two little boys, Devon 7 and Ian 3, were brutally murdered in their home. I am sure you will agree that this makes me a recent victim of crime. But a tragedy like this one doesn’t just affect the obvious people – me, my family and the little boys’ maternal family. It has also devastated this neighborhood, friends, colleagues, teachers and, what really breaks the heart, the little children who called Devon and Ian friends. Their world and ours has been turned upside down. Now multiply all of those victims by 16,000, the average number of Americans who are murdered in this country every year. Then imagine adding in rape and assault and robbery, and you will have a small idea of the number of victims who are added to the rolls every single year, and who embark on a long and difficult journey navigating the legal system.
I am a recent victim, and do not have stories of years and years spent going to appeals or to parole hearings at my own expense. But, I can tell you that even a year trying to navigate my way through a frightening maze of hearings and postponements has been difficult. Within six months, people were telling me it was time to move on and get back to normal. How is that possible? In six months we still hadn’t had a chance to go through their effects, the death certificates for the little ones weren’t finished, and we were looking at the first of many preliminary hearing dates. To this day, we are still waiting for a preliminary. This is in part because all the rights and concerns are for the defendant, and not for the victims of crime.
Perhaps many people don’t realize that no one represents the victim in the judicial process. The district attorney represents the interests of the state. There is a limit to how far they are allowed to go in keeping the victims in the loop, even when they want to. So, we sit through hearing after hearing trying to understand what is happening, and we are lucky to be able to do so, because many family members find themselves locked out of the proceedings. They are declared potential witnesses by the defense and have to sit in the hall, perhaps surrounded by the family and friends of the defendant. That can be extremely intimidating, especially when a gang is involved. That is one of the many injustices that Marsy’s Law seeks to address.
As I have written many times, murder isn’t over, you know, not ever – not for those of us left behind. In murder mystery books and crime dramas everything is wrapped up with a nice red bow right before the end, which usually comes just as soon as the cuffs are put on the suspect and their Miranda rights are read. The end. Cut to commercial. Show the previews for the next episode. It isn’t like that in real life. There are no quick, neat solutions. Forensics take months, investigations can be long and painstaking, and it seems to take forever for the trial to even start. And there is the pain of loss. That pain doesn’t go away, you don’t breathe a sigh of relief when the solution is presented or the trial ended. There isn’t even any real closure. You will never, ever, understand why someone felt they had a good reason to take your loved one’s life. No reason is good enough. And the pain is still there. The pain of loss is your life companion now. You may hide it. You many impress others with your strength, courageously build a new life for yourself, even find other happiness. But the loss is still there, the pain is still there, and grief just waits around the corner for a chance to trip you up again.
The sponsors of Marsy’s Law seek to ameliorate some of the endless agony that victims have to go through. Why should family members have to go to endless parole hearings, perhaps every single year, to try and make sure the person who hurt their loved one serves his or her full sentence? Why should they be forced to sit outside the courtroom where they can be intimidated and frightened, when the defense has no intention of actually calling them to testify? Why must they be forced to wait for monetary compensation, when it is ordered, until the State, County and City have all taken their cut? How hard would it be for first responders to hand out a little card to victims, telling them what their rights are and how they can obtain assistance – right then when they are shocked and confused and in most desperate need of help? I know it would have been of great help to me.
I urge all Californians to vote yes on Proposition 9, Marsy’s Law. We need an enforceable set of victim’s rights. We need Marsy’s Law.