New law can give more information to victims of crimes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 27, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. – More than three years ago, Theodore Walker was convicted of manslaughter in the 1995 killing of Marion Lewis of Ferriday and was sentenced to 20 years — but he had a parole hearing earlier this month.

&uot;We didn’t know, until we were sent a letter saying that his parole hearing was scheduled, that his sentenced had been reduced from 20 years to 10 years,&uot; said Ola Moore, mother of Aquanetta Lewis, Lewis’ widow.

But thanks to changes in Louisiana law, victims of violent crimes that happened after Jan. 1 — the date the changes took effect — will be better notified in the future of developments in their cases by filling out a one-page form, said Jean Wall, the bureau’s director.

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&uot;Under the new law, during the victim’s initial contact with the investigating police officer, the officer gives him a card with the name of a person at the Sheriff’s Office that will fill out the paperwork with them if they choose to be notified,&uot; said Curt Parish, victims’ liaison for the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Victims or family members of victims of violent crimes that took place before Jan. 1 can also be notified of further developments in their cases by requesting a notification form from the Louisiana Crime Victims Bureau.

The catch is only people who fill out a notification form and send it to the bureau can be assured of being notified of such things as the location of convicts in question, sentence reductions and dates of hearings in their cases.

&uot;Unfortunately, some victims — I don’t have numbers on how many — don’t fill out those forms, mostly because they want as little to do with the system as they can,&uot; Parish said. &uot;Most don’t want to get involved any more than they have to.&uot;

Sandy Krasnoff, director of New Orleans-based victims’ rights group Victims and Citizens Against Crime, said there many reasons a victim or family member does not immediately fill out such a form.

&uot;Sometimes they don’t see a need at the time (of the crime) or are still too shaken to do so, or sometimes they just misplace the form,&uot; Krasnoff said. &uot;But the victim can fill a form out later, and it’s up to the D.A.’s office to remind the person that they haven’t done that.&uot;

Once a form is filled out, it is referred to the parish’s clerk of court’s office so that office can notify the victim of court developments in the case, Parish said. The victim is notified of every step of the legal process through certified mail, Wall said.

While Krasnoff supports the changes in the law, he said the attitude of all those who deal with crime victims also needs to change. &uot;What needs to change is the mindset and the hearts of people who control the criminal justice system,&uot; he said. &uot;A victim is not a piece of evidence. He’s a human being.&uot;

Moore is thankful Walker was denied parole. &uot;But the fact that we didn’t know about his sentence being reduced — that’s what we were the most upset about,&uot;&160;she said.