• October 26, 2014

Victims’ advocates

District Attorney’s office employees help ease the pain of grief

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Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013 4:30 am

Rosa Reed drove toward bright, flashing emergency lights, which stretched across four lanes of traffic. She went as far as she could before parking. Then, she ran.

As she passed neighbors, who were on their front lawns trying to get a glimpse of what happened, Reed shouted, “That’s my husband.” Officers grabbed Reed before she reached the accident scene and told her he was badly injured.

“I fell on his shoulder and cried,” Reed said.

After her husband, William Allen Reed, 48, was life-flighted from Killeen to Scott & White in Temple, she sat in a private room, waiting as her husband’s condition worsened — waiting for police to find the drunk driver who smashed into his motorcycle and fled the scene.

With only puffs of air keeping William Reed alive, a chaplain and nurse told Rosa Reed that doctors couldn’t stop the bleeding.

“They had to stop trying. They had to go help some other people,” Reed said. “They let him cross over a little past midnight.”

As she began mourning the loss of her husband of 15 years on Aug. 12, 2010, Reed waited for Eugene Wolfenberger — “the man who killed her husband” — to be arrested and convicted.

After his arrest in January 2011, the next few months — and eventually years until Wolfenberger was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month on an intoxicated manslaughter charge — became a cluster of hearings. Without support from the Bell County District Attorney’s victims services, Reed said she would have been lost.

“When we get a victim who’s had no victims services, they’re already mad when they come to our office because of what’s going on,” said Jill McAfee, a victim and witness coordinator for the DA’s office. “Nobody’s told them anything. They’re a piece of evidence.”

Empowering victims

Sitting in the courtroom, watching “the man who killed her husband” try to get away with murder without an ounce of remorse added an extra layer of difficulty to Reed’s grief, she said.

The attorneys taught Reed to fight and the advocates taught her to be hopeful, which empowered her to share her pain while testifying.

“They actually will protect you,” Reed said. “They will physically put themselves between you and the people that have harmed you and your loved ones because, as you can imagine, (being) near someone who killed your husband is difficult.”

After the District Attorney’s office receives a case, advocates contact the victim within 24 hours, McAfee said. Advocates tell the victims what to expect during trials, let them know their rights as victims and keep them notified of hearings.

Instead of preparing victims for testimony, McAfee strives to provide a cozy environment, where victims can be themselves while they pursue justice. She works with the local nonprofit, Bikers Against Child Abuse, and spends time building relationships with children who may have to testify by playing with them in a kid-friendly room inside the office.

“We just want to have a connection with them because we sit in the courtroom with them and we want them to have ... someone they’re comfortable with to look at (while they testify, if their parents aren’t allowed in the courtroom),” McAfee said. “What we tell them is, ‘You tell (the judge and jury) what you remember. You tell the truth and the truth will prevail.’”

Assisting victims lets prosecutors concentrate on the case, without the stress of having to stop every five minutes to answer questions, ultimately prolonging the time it takes to get justice.

“Victims cannot emote very much. ... You can not look at the defendant,” Reed said. “You can’t even look at the jurors. What if I hadn’t known that? What if I had looked and caused a mistrial for an opportunity that I’ve waited for for three years?”

Support system

Dana Bettger’s childhood revolved around watching her dad beat her mom. Living in a household plagued by domestic violence and comforting friends of atrocious crimes inspired Bettger to become a victims advocate and make sure their voices are heard.

“One of my best friends was almost killed by a rapist who raped and left her for dead,” said Bettger, who works for the DA’s office. “She had no support services whatsoever and that kind of made me look into it.”

As she helped friends through some of the worst moments of their lives, Bettger saw the difference she made just by letting the victims know someone is listening to their story. “I want to be that voice in the system for (them),” she said. “If (they) can’t speak, I want to be there to be able to speak for (them).”

However, when victims come to the DA’s office to seek justice for the crime committed against them or a loved one, sometimes they don’t understand the legal process that must take place.

“It’s not a TV show. If the crime happens today, it doesn’t mean next week we go to trial. That’s the hardest to explain to families,” Bettger said. “Or when we don’t get the outcome (we want). There’s been many times you have to prepare your victims for the fact that there may be a not guilty (plea).”

Every case that reaches the advocates gets the same treatment, whether it’s a burglary, theft or murder. “A burglary is as bad as a homicide if you’ve never been involved in either of those,” McAfee said. “If you come home after a burglary, you don’t want to go in your house. You’re afraid. ... Once you become a victim, everything in your life changes and you become so vulnerable.”

Marleea Crittenden, whose son was robbed at gunpoint in Temple in 2010, said the advocates helped validate her feelings by letting her know she was entitled to them.

“You don’t look at (your situation) and go ‘I don’t have the right to be so upset because my son wasn’t killed,’ which is kind of what I did at first,” Crittenden said. “It doesn’t matter because you’re still a victim. ... As victims, we are all the same. Our lives have been altered by decisions someone else has made.”

‘Every morning is a challenge’

For Reed, her life hasn’t been the same since “the man who killed her husband” drove intoxicated down Westcliff Road nearly three years ago.

“Every morning is a challenge. The first thing you think of is them not being there,” she said. “You don’t hear their voice anymore. ... Don’t be in such a hurry to get the laundry done so you can smell their cologne on their clothes. Always look at people before you leave. It may be the last time that you see them.”

The morning of the accident, Aug. 11, 2010, William Reed sat on the couple’s bed as they laughed and joked while Rosa Reed ironed his shirt. The two left for work and relaxed when they got home that evening. After eating sandwiches made from leftover roast beef, William decided to visit pastors who live in the neighborhood to show them a fixer-upper house the couple was planning to help the church purchase. It was the Reeds’ usual routine for a Wednesday night. But, in a few short hours, Wednesdays would never be the same.

“He hopped on his motorcycle to go tell the pastors about (the property),” Rosa said. “We always looked at one another and kissed before we parted company from the house, so I did that and he left and then I never saw him again.”

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