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July 6, 2014

Prosecutors review crime victim services

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OKLAHOMA CITY —

“I think the main consequence is there should be an attitude that our victims deserve a criminal justice system that works, that is cognizant of their rights and that respects them through the process,” she said.

However, helping victims and their families is far from simple, said Lesley Smith March, who leads the attorney general’s victim’s advocacy program. Advocates exist for people who are most likely unfamiliar with the court system, and cases and circumstances vary widely.

“Victims’ families and victims are all different,” said March, who also worked as a prosecutor in Grady County. “Some people, when their loved one is murdered, they want to appear at the first court appearance. They want to look at the defendant. Other family members have told us in the past, ‘I can’t bear to be there. I don’t want to.’”

Such considerations, she said, are why prosecutors must have open communication with the families of victims.

Steidley believes victims’ rights are of utmost importance, said her spokeswoman, Michelle Lowry, in a statement. She noted that Steidley has changed in protocols in her office since taking office in 2011 to be more victim friendly. (Steidley lost a bid for a second term to a challenger in June’s Republican primary.)

For example, Steidley has made it mandatory that three people are assigned to each case involving a victim — a prosecutor, victim witness coordinator and legal assistant.

“We never want a victim to be missed,” Steidley said in a statement.

Call for change: Pamela Stonebarger, a retired teacher, has a similar story as Roberts. A decade after her 22-year-old son was stabbed nine times and murdered, Stonebarger remains outraged by the “horrible, just horrible” experience she had with the criminal justice system in Muskogee County.

Stonebarger said she had no clue that the state was supposed to offer her support and financial help in coping with her son’s death until a sympathetic medical examiner slipped a pamphlet inside her son’s autopsy report.

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