It’s a tightly-knit club that no one ever asks to join, but one that members say provides immeasurable comfort at their most difficult times.
Families affected by homicide gathered Sunday to reflect on three decades of victim advocacy and support at the 30th Anniversary Justice for Homicide Victims Memorial Foundation Event at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier.
In addition to honoring the memories of loved ones lost to homicide, guests thanked JHV founders Marcella Leach and the late Ellen Griffin Dunne for their tireless efforts to aid and comfort those suffering a pain most people will be fortunate enough to never know.
“Thirty years restoring the balance of justice,” San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos told the group.
All too often, the scales of justice appear to be weighted in favor of the suspect, Ramos said.
“We really need to balance those scales,” he said. “In fact, honestly, we need to balance them the other way. And how do we get there? We get there with organizations like yours.”
Ramos credited the group with helping to get Marsy’s Law, also known as the California Victims’ Bill of Rights, passed into law in 2008.
State Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, also commended JHV for its work.
“The foundation has truly provided a platform for family members to support each other over the past three decades,” Chau said.”It’s also a very excellent vehicle to educate the public about our criminal justice system, as well as to educate all of us about the victims’ legal rights.”
Marcella Leach founded JHV along with Ellen Griffin Dunne after both women lost a daughter to homicide, and both encountered harsh realities of the justice system which inspired them to become instruments of reform.
Following the slaying of Leach’s daughter, Marselee Nicholas, family members ended up running into the suspect at a market after he posted bail without their knowledge.
The killer of Dunne’s daughter, Dominique Dunne, was ultimately convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to “three years in a minimum security prison that has tennis courts,” said actor, director and producer Griffin Dunne, who is the son of Ellen Dunne and the sister of Dominique Dunne.
“It was because of this injustice that happened to our family that (Ellen Dunne) realized she wasn’t alone,” he said. “She reached out to Marcella, and JHV was born.
“Today, we have Marsy’s Law — one of the most comprehensive, constitutional victim’s rights laws in the United States,” Griffin Dunne said. “(Ellen Griffin) would be very proud of all of you, Marcella, most of all you.”
Marcella Leach’s eyes welled with tears as she thanked current JHV president Bill Bouffard and Homicide Victims’ Foundation President Jane Bouffard and the rest of the group.
“Thank you very much,” she said. “This is the most outstanding nonprofit in L.A., and it’s all due to you people.”
In addition to reflecting on past tragedies and accomplishments, the group discussed future plans as they continue fighting for justice for the organization’s ever-increasing ranks.
Just like criminal defendants, family members of victims deserve the right to a speedy trials that don’t drag on for years, Ramos said.
Additionally, Ramos said the process of appeals for convicts on death row must be significantly shortened.
“We are now pushing for a United States Constitutional amendment for victims’ rights,” Ramos said. “We have come a long way in 30 years, but I can tell you this: We have a long way to go.”
The meeting took place amid hundreds of posters displaying the photos and death dates of hundreds of homicide victims.
“Unfortunately, we add new pictures all the time,” said JHV Board Member Jeanette Chavez, whose 16-year-old daughter Sammantha Salas was fatally shot in an unincorporated county area near Monrovia in January of 2008.
Sammantha’s younger sister, Brittney, read a poem titled “Family Chains” in honor of her sister.
Previously focusing primarily on victim advocacy within the legal system, JHV is planning to launch a new grief counseling program in June, Chavez said.
For more information on JHV, visit www.justiceforhomicidevictims.net, or call 310-457-0030.
PHOTO: Justice for Homicide Victims co-foudner Marcella Leach, left, speaks to organization members during the 30th Anniversary Justice for Homicide Victims Memorial Foundation Event at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier on Sunday, April 6, 2014. Beside her stands Homicide Victims’ Foundation President Jane Bouffard (center) and State Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park (right).