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Point of View: Keeping our promises to Oklahoma victims

Lauren Layman
Lauren Layman

In 1983, my great-grandmother was murdered by a home intruder. The news was devastating to my family, and even more devastating when no suspects were named and no arrests made. As we waited and grieved, the case went cold.

Twenty-five years later, I was informed — in a news report — that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had received a federal grant to reopen old cases and pursue new leads. My grandmother’s case was among them.

I was elated; there was still a chance to find my great-grandmother’s killer and bring him to justice. I also was angry — why hadn’t we gotten a phone call or a letter? Why was the state keeping our family in the dark?

I wanted answers, so I went out to find them. After forcing my way, physically, into an OSBI investigator's office, I finally got some facts about the case. Weeks later, they identified a suspect and eventually apprehended him.

I am revisiting this painful experience now because it is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and I want my fellow Oklahomans to consider how some victims suffer — not just at the hands of criminals, but because of a criminal justice system that too often leaves them in the dark, without answers or resources. My case is not unusual; there are countless crime victims with very little information about their case and very little contact with law enforcement.

Things are getting better. The passage in 2018 of Marsy’s Law (State Question 794) gave the state a new set of constitutionally enshrined rights for victims. They include, among other things, a right to be kept informed and to receive timely notification of legal developments in your own case.

Passing Marsy’s Law made a strong statement about how we want to see victims treated, and I am grateful to voters for that. But the fact remains, our state statutes need to reflect the goals outlined in our constitution.

To their credit, our lawmakers understand this and are working on a bill to ensure the state keeps the promises we made to victims when we passed SQ 794. House Bill 1102, by Sen. Julie Daniels and Rep. Mike Osburn, would, for instance, direct district attorneys to inform every victim of their right to be present at any proceeding involving the release, plea, sentencing, disposition or parole of a criminal. It takes a lofty goal — a “right to information”— and outlines a plan for implementation.

Many people like me, who have suffered at the hands of criminals, worked hard to pass Marsy’s Law. HB 1102 is the next step in our long struggle to ensure every victim is treated fairly.

Layman is president of the Oklahoma Homicide Survivors Support Group.