I first came to know Beth Wilkinson in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, which took the life of my daughter, Frankie Merrell. In tribute to Frankie and all the others, I founded Families and Survivors United, which took a leading role in advocating for the victims and survivors before and during the trials that followed.
Having attended every day of the Timothy McVeigh trial, I came to regard Wilkinson as the most effective advocate on the prosecution team and to trust her to bring the victims' perspective into the courtroom. She did that amazingly well. For that reason I am astonished at her opposition to the Victims' Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ["Victims' Rights: A Better Way," op-ed, Aug. 6].
She claims that, had the amendment been in place, its stipulation that victims be heard before a plea bargain is accepted might have harmed the prosecution. Specifically, she suggested that victim commentary might have persuaded the judge to not accept the guilty plea of Michael Fortier -- and thus might have jeopardized the eventual conviction of McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Three things are wrong with this conjecture.
First, Fortier's testimony was not crucial to either conviction, as the prosecutors told the jurors and as several jurors later affirmed to me.
Second, had the prosecutors taken us into their trust on the usefulness of the Fortier plea, most of us would have reciprocated that trust and encouraged the judge to accept the plea. Wilkinson as much as admits this when she notes that the victims overwhelming asked for a provable and sustainable case against the guilty. Moreover, under state law, hundreds of thousands of plea bargains are now subjected to the victim-consultation rules she objects to, and none to our knowledge has produced the injustices she imagines.
And third, she is only partly right in asserting that "all crime victims should receive notice of public proceedings in a case and be permitted to attend if they so choose . . . and in fact the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing received such information."
Not always. Not, significantly, about the hearing in which the Fortier plea was offered. Nor did the prosecutors confer with any of us beforehand about that plea. And note this: Both failures to communicate with us were in violation of existing federal law.
The most formidable enemy of crime victims' aspirations for getting justice under our Constitution are criminal justice officials -- even well-meaning ones such as Wilkinson -- who believe that government lawyers know best. Her op-ed article represents the voice of a superior government extending handouts as an act of grace, not protecting the legitimate rights of a free people.
-- Marsha Kight