Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Homicide victims’ families find space to grieve

Statewide advocacy and support group fights for rights of those left behind
By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— Betty Barrett has anonymously gone to Superior Court to witness court proceedings involving the still-uncharged people she believes are responsible for her daughter’s arson death.
When Frederick Smith walks down the street, he sometimes wonders whether the young man who just passed him is the “joker” who shot his son twice in the back.
Pamela Harris asks God to grant her the ability to forgive the young man who shot her son in the back of the head, but forgiveness and peace have been hard to find in three grief-filled years.
Together, each month, these families who lost a loved one to homicide meet at police headquarters to seek comfort and solace, share stories and grief and bare their souls in front of people who they know will understand.
Today, Survivors of Homicide Inc., a Wethersfield-based advocacy group, will meet at the state Capitol as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to raise awareness about crime victims and promote strengthening victim rights’ laws and penalties for offenders.
SOH Inc. advocates for crime victims and families of homicide victims to be stakeholders in prosecutions with full access to all court proceedings and meetings in judges’ chambers; passage of a law to require judges to post a picture of all manslaughter or murder victims at trial in view of the jury; better compensation for survivors who lost a breadwinner; and limitations on people convicted of murder and manslaughter to file habeas appeals.
On a local level, SOH sponsors support groups in New Haven, New London, Southington and Manchester for survivors.
Danielle Rae, of Milford, joined the group to help her cope with the 1991 murder of her brother in Houston and went on to become the SOH president.
Last week, a dozen people from New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Canaan met at police headquarters on Union Avenue.
Some lost loved ones recently. Others’ losses were a decade ago, but emotions were equally raw.
Shirley Banks lost her 20-year-old daughter, Regina, to a bullet in 1991 in New Haven. After she died, Banks grew closer with her daughter Rachelle, who then was shot to death in 1994.
Jackie Denese of Bridgeport was on a cell phone with her son, Clarence “Chucky” Jones, when a man inside the sport utility vehicle in which he was an occupant shot him in the head and dumped him outside.
Chris Noel-Bentley, of New Canaan, lost his child last August while she was in the care of his estranged wife and police continue to investigation, although they tell him little anymore because of his emotional investment. It was his first survivors meeting. “I do cry most days,” he said. Sometimes, like a song on the radio, can trigger it. “I dream about him a lot. I juts needed a safe place to come.”Each family’s experience is different. Betty and Bob Barrett’s 39-year-old daughter, Kathy Hardy, a mother of three, died in a 2006 arson fire in Branford. Bob Barrett said some friends started avoiding them because they didn’t know what to say. No arrests have been made.
Smith, whose son Terrence Driffin was killed last year on Shelton Avenue, is dreading the one-year anniversary and at times, anger overwhelms him.
“I’m ready to go vigilante, but I have to think about these two,” he said, motioning to his wife and daughter. “Can’t do nobody any good sitting up in Camp Whalley.” The New Haven Corrections Center is on Whalley Avenue.
Harris’ son, Eddie Washington, died three years after leaving a Hillhouse High School basketball game in New Haven. He was giving friends a ride in a car and one accidentally shot him in the head.
The friend is serving a 10-year sentence. People say time heals all wounds, Harris said, but even three years later, there are times “when I really don’t know whether I want to live or die.”
“I asked God to take the hatred out of my heart for him, but it’s not easy. When you got to come face-to-face with the person that killed your child in the courtroom, all you can see is blood,” she said.
The survivors’ meetings, she said, provide a supportive environment where you can tell your story “50 million times” and people won’t get tired of hearing it because they went through the same thing, she said.
“Sitting here is great for us. We get to vent. We get things out of our systems and there’s an understanding that we’re not alone. There are times that you feel like there’s no one else who understands or cares. It’s nice to come here.”
“It’s a club that you don’t want to belong to,” said Betty Barrett, “but everyone (there) has gone through it.”

1 comment:

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