Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A responsibility to victims

From the September 5th Seacoast Online, this article about Renny's Cushing's legislation regarding victim compensation in cold cases:

Rep. Renny Cushing said he saw one shortcoming in the bill signed into law last year establishing for the first time in the state's history a Cold Case Unit assigned to work exclusively on unsolved murder cases.

The Democratic state representative from Hampton said the bill didn't address the needs of surviving victims who may be traumatized by the reopening of an investigation into their loved ones death. That is why he sponsored a bill, which became law three weeks ago, that allows family of cold case homicides to be eligible for victim compensation regardless of the date of the crime.

"It is my understanding that the law that went into effect is the first law in the country that specifically recognizes cold case homicide victims under victim's compensation statutes," Cushing said. "I am proud that New Hampshire is on the leading edge of meeting the needs of crime victims."

Before passage of this law, Cushing said families of cold case victims were ineligible because the state's victim's compensation law did not cover crimes that took place before enactment of the law setting up the fund, and there is a two-year statute of limitations on the time victims have to initiate requests for compensation assistance.

New Hampshire's victim compensation law states that victims of a violent crime are eligible to recover up to $25,000 in related out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance or other resources. Cushing said he recognized the shortcoming in the law when they were voting to approve the Cold Case unit.

"Whenever I consider criminal justice legislation, I always ask how does it impact the victims of crime," Cushing said. "I could see right away they were not being addressed, but the focus at the time was just getting the unit approved and up and running."

Cushing said it was important to establish the unit because in the past 40 years there have been approximately 120 homicide victims whose killers have not yet been brought to justice. The unit recently brought criminal charges in the deaths of four family members in an apartment house arson in 1989 in Keene.

David McLeod had been arrested on four counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Carl Hina, his wife Lori, their 4-month old daughter Lillian, and Carl Hina's 12-year-old daughter Sara.

The victim assistance component, he said, will help those surviving families. Costs of the program are paid by motor vehicle and criminal fine assessments and federal Victims of Crime Act grants. Cushing said he's passionate about the issue because he understands what it's like to be a victim. His father was shotgunned to death in the doorway of his Hampton home in 1988 by a neighbor who was a town police officer.

Afterward, he supported a bill establishing the Victims' Compensation Fund in New Hampshire, which was approved in 1989. The money is available for counseling costs, medical and dental expenses and lost wages or support.

"We shouldn't abandon victims," he said. "We have a responsibility to help them. And this is a fund that doesn't cost taxpayers a dime."

Cushing said the fund will also help other family members of cold case victims.

"When they reopen an investigation, the first things that happen is they re-interview people involved and it's always the family members," Cushing said. "Just the process of reinvestigation triggers things in many survivors, revisiting the crime and experiencing retraumatization. This bill recognizes that the impact of crime upon victim-survivors is long term."

Since its passage, Cushing said he's been in touch with victims advocates, legislative colleagues and legislative staff throughout the country who are interested in replicating the law in other states.

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