After A Boy Is Murdered, Court Adds To Father's Pain

Crime Victims Seek Greater Judicial Role

April 21, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

Jim Purman wanted to tell the world about the murder of his youngestson by two teen-agers.

He wanted to tell people who sat next to him on planes.

He wanted to tell the judge who would sentence his son's young killers of the pain they had caused his family.

"It was important tome to be present at every moment (of the trial)," said Purman. "I felt it was my last public way to stand beside Richard."

But Purman never got a chance to stand before then-Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore and tell how the shooting death of his 17-year-old son made him lose heart.

Gilmore told the victim's father he had heard enough about the case and said he understood the Purmans' pain.

A victim impact statement Purman wrote was sufficient, the judge said. An oral statement by the bereaved father couldn't make him feel the family's pain more strongly.

And while Purman said he is grateful for the waythe now-retired judge handled the case, he wishes he had given some public tribute to his murdered son.

In Maryland, judges are not required to listen to what victims have to say about how crimes affected them.

Victims and loved ones often are encouraged by prosecutorsto submit written victim impact statements to be read by the judge, but jurists are not bound to read them or take them into consideration, said Cassie Puls, victims services coordinator for the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

Crime victims and their families say the policy is unjust, and one they will highlight during National Victims' Rights Week, which begins today.

"When something happens that isas traumatic as the death or injury of a loved one, it's even worse when you realize you have no say," said Diane Jackson, victim-witnesscoordinator for the Carroll State's Attorney's Office.

Jackson spends much of her time explaining the judicial process to victims and their families and accompanying them to court.

She said victims often say it seems that defendants have all the rights.

For instance, defendants can waive their right to speedy trial, causing years to pass before a case goes to court. No one asks victims how they feel about it, Jackson said.

Defendants are entitled to free medical andpsychological care while in jail. Crime victims must use insurance, if they have it, to pay for care of injuries or other problems resulting from a crime.

Carroll judges often impose restitution as part of a defendant's sentence. However, the defendant has the full lengthof his sentence to pay restitution, she said.

For Jim Purman, restitution and compensation were not the important issues.

His youngest son, Richard, was shot by 16-year-old Brian Tracy on Nov. 22, 1987. Tracy, Brian Jordan and Dawn Torres -- all residents of the Sykesville Shelter Home for delinquent youths -- ran away from the home that night intending to steal a car and drive to California.

They called Richard, a classmate known as a "good Samaritan" who would help anyone, asking for a ride.

After inducing him to drive them to a wooded area, Tracy shot Richard in the chest and dragged his body into the weeds.

*

From the time he was 5, Richard had lived with hisfather. Purman was wounded deeply by his son's death. Richard's mother and three siblings shared the pain.

So when Jordan's lawyer asked that all witnesses be barred from the courtroom during the trial, the family was stunned. Purman and his former wife, Elaine Andrew, had been subpoenaed to testify for the defense.

"By the end of that week, the whole family had suffered," said Purman, who was kept from the courtroom along with Richard's mother. "Not only could we not be present during the testimony, we couldn't discuss it when we came home at night."

"A crueler blow to us personally, or as a family, could not have been devised," said Purman in 1989 while testifying in favor of a state constitutional amendment that would buttress victims'rights in the judicial process.

Puls, who started the Victim-Witness Unit in Carroll, said victims' families often are furious they can't be present during trials, especially when the defendant is able to bring supporters to the courtroom.

Victims' rights advocates say defense attorneys call families of victims as witnesses -- then askthat all witnesses be barred from the courtroom so the jury doesn't feel the psychological pressure of seeing them every day, Puls said.

Purman said his family also was upset when people testified in Jordan's behalf at the killer's sentencing hearing.

"All these experts and family members were extolling Jordan's virtues, and we couldn'tsay anything about Richard," said Purman. "It was insulting to have to sit there and listen to it for two days."

Assistant State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman said there is a legal question pending beforethe U.S. Supreme Court whether victims or their families can testifyat a defendant's sentencing. He said many judges will not allow the testimony until the issue is resolved.

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