• November 28, 2014

Coryell crime victims unite as Survivors for Justice

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Posted: Sunday, March 9, 2014 12:15 am

GATESVILLE — For some crime victims, the pursuit of justice doesn’t end with a court verdict.

Five Coryell County women came together to offer help and comfort to those who, like themselves, were victims of crime.

The group, Survivors for Justice, was the idea of Brandy Johnson, crime victims’ services coordinator in the office of 52nd Judicial District Attorney Dusty Boyd.

“We want to let victims know they can share their experiences. They are not the only people who have been through this,” said Johnson, who was a deputy county clerk for five years before becoming the crime victims’ advocate in October 2012.

Johnson guides crime victims through the legal process, serves as their liaison with prosecutors and assists in applying for victim compensation.

She works with clients involved with both felonies and misdemeanors. She also provides help to victims of domestic violence who choose not to file charges.

Johnson established a friendship with three of her clients who took active roles in their cases. The women kept in contact after their trials ended.

With encouragement from Boyd and Assistant District Attorney Scott Stevens, Johnson recruited the women as a committee to help plan activities for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which is April 6-12.

The group soon expanded into an advisory panel providing input to Johnson and the legal staff on how to best serve crime victims.

“If you want to know what victims want and need, why not just ask them?” Stevens said.

Ribbons and balloons

On a Monday evening, the women sat around a conference table strewn with pizza and posters, talking about ribbons and balloons. Miranda Waters, Malissa Casas, Ashley Cutts, Clara Yagalla and Linda Snively were helping Johnson organize local events to recognize the rights of crime victims.

Girl Scouts would help distribute the ribbons, Johnson said. Churches would hand out fliers, businesses would display posters, a local company would donate helium for the ceremonial release of 50 balloons, and Fort Hood may provide a color guard.

“We are trying to raise awareness,” Johnson said. “People don’t know we exist. The group is a good foundation.”

“We are getting the word out that there is someone out there who cares,” Waters said.

Waters and Casas are sisters whose mother was killed in a fire set by their stepfather. After a long and stressful legal struggle, they got justice in the courtroom. Now they want to help other survivors.

“You are in a dark tunnel when you deal with it,” said Cutts, who came to Johnson’s office as the victim of sexual assault. Although her case ended in an acquittal, she wants to reach out to others.

“Justice is not in the courtroom,” Cutts said. “Justice is helping others get through it.”

The support may be just a smile or a phone call. “Just call and talk,” Johnson said.

“Or cry,” Waters said.

“Or vent,” Stevens said.

Motivation

“I am proud of Brandy, her vision and new ideas of how to approach victim services,” Boyd said. “She is creating a new atmosphere for victims.”

Johnson and the survivors group bring a human touch to the office, Boyd said.

“So much of the legal process is cold and sharp,” he said. “The legal work can be so mechanical. This group brings a personal touch.”

Boyd said the women’s commitment has motivated him.

“We see people on the worst day of their lives,” he said. “It must be hard for them to come back in that door, but here they are. It is a huge compliment and motivation for the staff.”

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