Relatives Of Murder Victims Want Say In Parole Review

STATE HOUSE WATCH/A REPORT ON THE HARFORD DELEGATION

February 24, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

If members of the Harford-based support group Families of Murdered Loved Ones had their way, they would be allowed to testify at the parole hearings of the killers who altered their lives.

Survivors alsowould be notified by court officials when court hearings were scheduled for the accused.

The group has organized a letter-writing campaign to state legislators to support a bill, co-sponsored by three Harford delegates, that would require victims or their families to be notified of court proceedings.

The group also is lobbying for three other victims' rights bills.

About 35 group members are sending letters to the 21-member House Judiciary Committee.

"(The bills) are so long overdue," said Betty Romano, founder of the support group.

The bills would:

* Allow victims or their appointed representatives to make an verbal statement before the state Parole Commission during a convict's parole hearing.

State law provides for victims to make written statements that must be filed at least 30 days before a parole hearing.

* Require the parole commission to consider the victim's statement when deciding whether to grant an inmate parole.

The commission nowconsiders the circumstances surrounding the crime, the inmate's progress while in prison and a recommendation by the sentencing judge.

* Require prosecutors to notify crime victims or their families whenthey reach a plea agreement with a defendant. Victims and relatives would have a chance to testify on the agreement in court.

* Require the court to notify victims when charges are dropped against a defendant found by the court to be incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible.

* Increase the amount convicts pay to the state Victims of Crime Fund, established in 1982 to pay for treatment andassistance for victims.

The law now requires defendants to pay $15 into the state's general fund. The bill would increase the paymentsto $40 in circuit court cases and to $30 in district court cases.

The legislation would require the state to put part of the money directly into the Victims of Crime Fund -- $25 in circuit court cases and $15 in district court cases.

Romano, of Abingdon, who founded the support group, said she wants the fund used to pay for counseling for victims and their families.

Romano and her husband, Frederick J. Romano, were offered free counseling from the Baltimore County's Victim-Witness Unit. The county started a counseling program in October with a $40,000 federal grant.

"That's one thing that is desperately needed in all the counties," Romano said. "That's one good program that would assist the victims."

The four bills were introduced by Prince George's County Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-District 27.

Harford County Delegates David R. Craig, R-District 34, DonaldC. Fry, D-District 35A, and James M. Harkins, R-District 35A, are co-sponsors.

Companion bills have not been introduced in the Senate.

A hearing on the four bills is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee. Romano said she may testify.

Romano's 20-year-old daughter, Dawn M. Garvin, was sexually assaulted and shot in the head on Nov. 1, 1987. Her body was found the next day in her White Marsh apartment by her father.

Steven H. Oken of White Marsh was convicted of first-degree murder in Baltimore County Circuit Court and sentenced to death for the killing by a jury on Jan. 25.

Romano said Baltimore County prosecutors and court officials kept her family apprised of the status of Oken's proceedings.

But that's not always the case, Romano said.

Romano gave the example of the James R. Trimble case in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Trimble was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death for the murder of a White Marsh woman 10 years ago.

Trimble's death sentence was later overturned, and he was sentenced to life in prison. But the victim's family did not learn about the change until they read about it in the newspaper, Romano noted.

"That's just not right," Romano said.

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