Theresa Maybury still flashes back to that Labor Day two years ago when a Culpeper, Va., stonemason rammed a rusty shotgun into her son's stomach and pulled the trigger.
"I still see him," Maybury said of the bearded man convicted of murdering her son. "He'll be laughing and joking five feet from me, just as he did during the trial."
Marbury said she was totally unprepared for the trauma that awaited her after the death of her 18-year-old son, Joseph, including being told to wait in the same witness room as the suspect in the slaying and listening to the defense portray her son as a hoodlum who was begging for trouble.
Determined that the families of other victims should not have to go through what she did, Maybury became a volunteer counselor in Alexandria's new Victims Assistance Program, one of a growing number of local aid programs. A federal grant providing $100 million for victims is expected to boost these local programs beginning this fall.
As recently as five years ago, the criminal justice system concerned itself almost solely with criminals, spending nearly $26 billion a year arresting, prosecuting and jailing offenders. Now it's looking at the other side of crime, turning to focus on those hurt emotionally and financially by violators of the law.
"We have been too long blaming victims," said Lois Haught Herrington, the assistant attorney general heading the federal Office of Justice Programs. "Somehow it makes us feel less vulnerable, if we hear a person was mugged walking down a street at 10 p.m. and say to ourselves, 'I would never have been out there at that time.' "
Instead of blaming victims, Herrington, who chaired the 1982 Presidential Task Force on Crime, said it's time to help them.
That effort also helps law enforcement agencies in the long run, said Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney John E. Kloch. In the last 20 years, Kloch said, victims began being "treated as pieces of evidence, rather than human beings." When the system lost its personal touch, Kloch said, it drove away its most crucial witnesses: victims.
Now, as at least a dozen new programs are aiding victims in the Washington area, Kloch said he hopes "we can go back to 20 years ago when people knew the policeman on the street" and were more willing to help prosecute assailants.
Eileen McGrath, the coordinator of Alexandria's new program, said she believes part of the impetus to help victims came from the victims themselves: "I think it's a result of people who weren't getting answers. They started to say, 'We didn't choose to be victims.' "
One of the biggest challenges the new programs confront is the discouraging picture painted by crime statistics. For every 100 violent crimes committed, only two result in prison terms for the perpetrators, according to the Justice Department's 1984 National Crime Survey.
But Herrington said "the intolerably high crime rate" was also one of the major reasons the justice system is now putting so much effort into victim assistance. More than 40 million Americans are the victims of crimes each year, including 6 million who are victimized by violent crimes.
She said the victim movement was spearheaded by effective lobbying groups such as M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and POMC (Parents of Murdered Children), and aided considerably by President Reagan's interest in victims' rights. Reagan, the target of John Hinckley's bullets, is especially aware of the feelings and concerns of victims, Herrington said.
From Prince William County in Virginia to Anne Arundel County in Maryland, local governments have hired counselors to aid victims and program coordinators to refer them to the available medical, psychological and financial resources. Most of the programs are small-scale, and many are are not well known in their communities. In the District, in the year after the Crime Victims' Compensation Program was created in 1983, only 12 people had dipped into its coffers, according to a city report. But most jurisdictions say that this year, as more people become aware of the programs, the number of victims receiving help increases.
Typically, the victims' assistance programs explain court procedures and delays, contact victims' employers to ensure that victims appear as witnesses without the loss of wages and help prepare the victim impact statement, which the judge reads before sentencing.
According to the Justice Department, when the 1984 Victims of Crime Act money is released early this fall, Virginia will receive $1.2 million, Maryland $1.45 million and the District of Columbia $224,000.
Half of the money is to be given on a matching basis to states that operate compensation programs for those who suffer financial losses because of crimes. The other half will help states operate victim assistance programs such as the one in Alexandria, rape crisis centers and shelters for battered women.
The fund, part of a massive anticrime bill Congress passed last year, is fed largely by fines imposed on federal criminals, such as the $2 million fine E.F. Hutton recently paid after pleading guilty to wire and mail fraud charges.
Maybury, who said she thinks every day about the loss of her son, said counseling other victims helps her, as well as others.
Recently she sat through a trial with an Alexandria mother whose 16-year-old son was stabbed to death by another juvenile. "I can go up to other victims and say, 'I know how you feel.' Truly, there isn't much else you can say."
Maybury, the mother of four other children, said most people think there is no grief worse than their own until they hear the stories of others, such as the case of Betty Jane Spencer of Hollensburg, Ind.
Spencer was making out her weekly list of errands on Valentine's Day 1977 when four gunmen burst into her home and ordered her family to lie face down on the floor.
Then, Spencer said, her entire living room lit up with a flurry of flashing bullets. The gunmen, who later were convicted of first-degree murder, sprayed more than 80 shotgun pellets into Spencer and her four sons. Only Betty Jane Spencer lived.
"I was murdered that day, but I didn't die," Spencer said recently. Instead, she founded Indiana's Protect the Innocent organization, which successfully fought for a state bill providing that victims be notified when their assailants are released on parole or bond.
"There's a feeling out there, that 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore,' " said Katy Boyle, an administrative aide in the Justice Department's Office of Victims of Crime. "Hopefully, the new money and programs will help."