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July 6, 2014

Prosecutors review crime victim services

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

In addition, the grand jury said district attorneys’ offices should document all contacts with victims, including details as to when they tried to reach a victim.

Committed coordinators: Susan Caswell, first assistant district attorney for the 21st district, which worked with Burton’s survivors, said she’s sorry that Sharon Roberts and her mother had a negative experience.

“I feel bad if that’s what she took away from this experience,” said Caswell. “That makes me sad because that’s not what we try to do and not what we thought we did with her. We work really hard to help them get through a really difficult time.”

Caswell said the county’s victim coordinator and detectives spent time explaining the process, communicated frequently, and worked to ensure that Roberts could attend hearings.

Caswell noted that victim coordinators work with thousands of victims each year.

“Some families need a lot more contact than other families,” she said.

And while prosecutors always ask for input, Caswell said prosecutors ultimately decide how to proceed with plea agreements because doing otherwise would put victims in the unfair position of deciding “what’s fair for someone that hurt them.”

Caswell said Roberts’ feelings are atypical. The coordinators in Cleveland County “spend hours on the phones with victims and the victims’ families because we can’t necessarily do that as prosecutors on the case,” she said. Many victims and their families send flowers, thank-you notes and cookies after the fact.

“They’re just really good at it in this county,” she said.

Melissa McLawhorn Houston, chief of staff for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said the state has “great history” on victim’s rights. Its laws were codified more than three decades ago.

Victims are different: Houston said the attorney general’s office is reviewing the grand jury’s report to decide if existing laws should be strengthened. She said some recommendations could simply be addressed through training, rather than passing new laws.

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