Crime Victims' Rights Week observed in Henry

By Jas

Local residents affected by crime, and their families, will have opportunities this week to remember loved ones they've lost and to honor law enforcement personnel.

National Crime Victims' Rights Week began Sunday and extends through Saturday, and several events marking the observance have been scheduled in Henry County.

A memorial service for families of homicide victims, and victims of other crimes, will be held Thursday at 7 p.m., at Shiloh Baptist Church, located at 262 Macon Street in McDonough.

On Friday at 11 a.m., the Henry County District Attorney's Office and Solicitor General's Office will host a Law Enforcement Recognition ceremony on The McDonough Square.

National Crime Victims' Rights Week is coordinated by the federal Office for Victims of Crime, and began in 1981.

Henry District Attorney Tommy Floyd said the movement was born from a focus by the criminal justice system on constitutional rights for defendants.

"My entire career, I've heard victims lament that the criminals have all the rights," Floyd said. "From that sentiment grew the victims' rights movement, over the years."

In Georgia, Floyd continued, a Victim's Bill of Rights enables victims to be notified of court proceedings and bond for defendants, and to be heard in court if they so desire. The bill of rights also grants victims and their families the right to participate in plea negotiations, he said.

"I have found over the years that if you sit a victim down, or their family, and explain the ins and outs of the criminal justice system ... and how it relates to their case, it's usually not very difficult to craft a recommendation," Floyd said.

In 1995, the district attorney's office in Henry County formed a Victims Services division with advocates who help victims and their families to understand court proceedings, and to seek restitution on behalf of victims, Floyd said. Those advocates, Floyd said, are able to devote more time than prosecutors to explaining aspects of the criminal justice system.

"We try not to let the system re-victimize these victims," Floyd continued. "We try to help them understand why things are done the way that they're done, and why things end up the way they end up. For the most part, it's a great relief to victims, and I've found that the more serious the crime, the more we can help."

Lorraine Bunn is the victims' services director for the district attorney's office, and a coordinator for Victims' Rights Week. She said she has received positive feedback about the week-long remembrance from victims and their families.

"It's a time when they can come together, and not have to be sitting in a cold courtroom where everything is more formal," said Bunn. "They can gather, and they can grieve if they want to."

Bunn and Henry County Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Wright were among the local officials who were on hand Monday to receive a proclamation from the Henry County Board of Commissioners, commemorating Victims' Rights Week. Others included Henry County Solicitor General Charles Spahos, and victim advocates, Evelyn Roberts and Judy King.

"I would like to say thank you for what you're doing this morning," Spahos told commissioners. "This week is about us backing up from the trial calendars and the motion hearings, and all the things that go on in court, and reminding everybody that it is about the victims of crimes, and the families that are left behind."

Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis is scheduled to be in attendance during the memorial service and the recognition ceremony.

"I believe it's important to continue to bring awareness to the fact that there's another side to crime," Mathis said. "We tend to focus on the perpetrator when, in fact, we need to also consider the victims and victims' families. This helps victims and [their] families to feel like they're not alone ... and that their loved ones are not forgotten."