Crime victims and their advocates speak out at the capitol
By Tom Flanigan
Tallahassee, FL – In most discussions about crime and criminal justice, the victims are often left out of the conversation. Today (On Wednesday), Florida's top officials paused to recognize those victims and those who help them. Tom Flanigan reports it was the thirtieth observance of National Crime Victims Rights Week at the Capitol.
Since 2009, the United States has experienced somewhere around twenty-million crimes. One out of every five of those crimes was violent. A Florida family who has experienced this firsthand, are the Kesse's of Orlando. Joyce Kesse says their lives changed forever that day in January, 2006 when her daughter, 24-year old Jennifer, disappeared.
"We know she was taken against her will. To this date, many, many leads, many law enforcement agencies. Truly we are honored to speak here, but we are not the victims. Our daughter Jen is the victim."
Another couple struggling with the loss of a child are Bruce and Erma Slager. They also attended Wednesday's observance of National Crime Victims Rights Week at the Florida Capitol and were introduced to Governor Rick Scott.
"Governor, Bruce works in your I.T. office here. Their daughter Kelly was killed in September, 2004 at the age of 27, leaving behind two sons, which Bruce and Erma are raising."
Along with the Governor were Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, State Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Senate Budget Chief J.D. Alexander and mistress of ceremonies for the occasion, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
"By asserting rights and mobilizing resources that did not exist thirty years ago, victims can hope to reshape their lives and their destinies by overcoming the impact of crime. This year's theme honors victims by underscoring the nation's duty to respect and support their efforts to reclaim their lives and honors advocates who fight tirelessly for victims' rights and services."
Among those honored advocates, Fawneisha Brown with the Tallahassee Police Department, which investigated the kidnapping and murder of Florida State University student Vincent Binder last year.
"Mr. Binder's father and brother traveled to Tallahassee and Ms. Brown met with them, provided them contact information where she could be reached 24-hours a day, seven days a week. She treated each and every family member with respect and compassion."
Lourdes Mendoza, victim advocate with the Hialeah Police Department, dealt with the worst mass killing in the city's history at a local restaurant this past year.
"Immediately, Ms. Mendoza began assisting the victims and their families. She worked with numerous providers to gather the information necessary to assist with the many needs of each surviving victim and their families as well as the deceased victims and their families."
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office Victim Advocate Debbie Shepherd worked a murder case last year that had international ramifications.
"The victim was from Germany and Ms. Shepherd worked diligently though the German consulate's office to locate the victim's son and help bring him to Florida, which we know is no easy task. She assisted with the necessary arrangements for the services for the family and funeral for the victim."
In Gainesville, Police Detective Bruce Ferris lends his skills regarding domestic and child abuse cases to many other agencies.
"During 2010, Detective Ferris served as a consultant with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence on the Intimate Violence Enhanced Services Team Domestic Violence Project, helping to bridge the gap between law enforcement and victims' advocates in case where D.V. (domestic violence) victims are at high risk of homicide."
Five members of the Suwanee County Sheriff's Office, Corporal Donnie Brown, Sergeant Sam St. John and Deputies Cory Horne, Wayne Kelly and Martin Lee pulled a shooting victim from the house his assailant had set on fire.
"Corporal Brown arrived at the house and went in through the bedroom window to assist in locating the victim. Both deputies could not see anything inside the house and had to feel their way to find the victim. Deputy Kelly and Deputy Lee arrived at the scene and waited on the scene outside of the window as deputies Horne and St. John lifted the victim thought the window to safety."
And it's not only civilian citizens who are crime victims. The families of six Florida law officers killed in the line of duty so far this year are also suffering. Drew Kesse, whose wife spoke earlier at the event, made a plea for lawmakers to help future crime victims. That would take the form of a law requiring that anyone arrested for a felony in Florida have their D-N-A checked immediately against the database lawmakers agreed to set up a few years ago.
"The time between someone gets arrested for a felony and that same person gets convicted, that person commits 5.5 more felonies. It's unheard of. We need to take the DNA when they are first arrested and they'll find out - we will find out - how many crimes those people have actually made."
The money to pay for that D-N-A sampling, around one-point-two million dollars, remains unappropriated by the legislature.