Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Thank you, Dan [Levey], for that wonderful introduction. I really feel very lucky to have spent so much of my career working on victims' issues.
Too often, the justice system is seen as all about punishing offenders and guaranteeing defendant's rights. The victims of crime can be overlooked, forgotten, or excluded. So, I've always worked to remind folks that without victims' rights, there is no justice.
With the help of groups like the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children - and with the full support of Attorney General Eric Holder - this Justice Department will continue to enforce, promote, and support victims' rights.
While I have a long history working for - and with - victims, I would never claim to understand what you feel - what you have lost. I've made it a point to avoid trying to put words in your mouths, but instead, to listen to what you say.
One father's voice, in particular, struck me recently. He is a criminal justice professional, who is experiencing tragic loss firsthand. Valerie, the 23-year-old daughter of Concord, North Carolina, Police Chief Merl Hamilton, was reported missing when she didn't show up to her job as a children's swim coach.
The search for Valerie ended in a storage unit, where her body was found. Through tears, Chief Hamilton appealed for help finding her murderer, "I never thought I'd be on the other side, but here we are," he said.
Chief Hamilton had experience working with crime victims, I'm sure, but he had never lost someone to violence. You've all felt that shock. Horrible tragedies are reported on the nightly news and cover the pages of our magazines and newspapers. They are repulsive and deplorable, but they are not personal - until they happen to you.
They now have a suspect in custody in the North Carolina case, but, as you know, the process of seeking answers and finding justice is just beginning. As it begins, Chief Hamilton said of his daughter, "She was the perfect daughter, and I miss her, and I need justice for her ..."
We are here today to honor your beloved daughters and sons. And, just as I humbly acknowledge that I do not personally know your pain, I steadfastly promise that we at the Justice Department will continue to listen, to try to understand, and to help in whatever small way we can.
In just a few moments, you'll hear from Joye Frost, the Acting Director of our Office for Victims of Crime, or OVC. While it's my job to make sure victims' rights are always a priority for the Justice Department, Joye and her staff have the enormous task of making sure that we fulfill our promises and provide for victims.
This year, OVC is providing more than $610 million to support local victim assistance and state victim compensation. These programs reimburse victims and their families directly for expenses related to their victimization, including support for medical and mental health costs and funeral and burial expenses.
This investment is important, but it can only really have an impact if we work together to make sure that victims -and their families - get more than monetary compensation.
Your theme this year is remember, remind, and respect. I think it's telling that two of the three areas focus on engaging the memory. Today, as we take part in the cathartic ritual of lighting candles, I know your memories will be engaged. You will be thinking of your lost loved ones - of smiling faces, of shared laughs, of quiet moments.
Through your actions and your advocacy, you have given life and power to those memories. Today, and throughout the year, I urge you to invoke those memories as a source of strength and resilience. I will likewise turn to you and your memories - as a source of motivation and inspiration for our continued work on behalf of crime victims and their families.
On behalf of the Justice Department, I offer our deepest sympathies and our continued dedication.
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