Past Crime Victims Suffer Until Bill Takes Effect
Posted November 5, 1998 6:00 a.m. EST
RALEIGH — Starting next year, domestic violence victims will be covered by the state's Victims' Rights Bill. The new law requires offenders to pay restitution to their victims. Unfortunately, it will not help victims of the past.
A lot of cases seem to slip through the cracks. Many victims are never notified about court dates and they do not get the restitution they need. One Raleigh woman believes that victims have very few rights.
Cheryl Fowler was a vibrant young mother of two who dreamed of being a nurse, but a severe beating by her husband put her in a coma leaving her brain damaged and partially paralyzed.
"We didn't think she was going to live," Cheryl's mother Shirley Rudisill said. "At the time that the doctor found out what happened to her he said he wasn't sure."
The court sentenced Fowler's ex-husband, Adam, to 14 weekends in jail and ordered him to pay $2,000 a year for Cheryl's care. But in August, without warning, a judge amended the order and dropped the restitution.
"The person who did this, he's the one that has all the rights," Rudisill said. "Nobody listens to us, nobody asks us about anything. They do what they're going to do and we're never informed of anything."
Catherine Smith with the North Carolina Victim Assistant Network says her group gets complaints about cases like this one all the time. Smith says this is exactly why she pushed for the Victim's Rights Act, which takes effect in January. Under the act, victims have the right to be informed and to restitution.
"[Cheryl's case] is absolutely devastating. It's a slap in the face," Smith said. "We will be there watching to make sure that these rights are being enforced."
"We're not the first ones, and I do hope this law is going to help people," Rudisill said.
The restitution in Cheryl Fowler's case was taken away after the North Carolina Department of Probation presented the case to the court for review.
Judge Abraham Jones says he will not comment on the specifics of the case, but says he ruled based on the facts that were presented to him at the time. He says he would be open to considering the case again if there is new evidence.