Eyvonne Gray is no eye-for-an-eye fanatic, but she is hurt, confused and insulted that the man who killed her daughter should be sentenced to a mere 365 days of weekends in jail and an order to pay some money to support the dead woman's 6-year-old child.
"I don't want his money," she said. "I want justice. What the judge did is not justice. It's like rewarding Mr. Strother for killing my daughter."
Edward Strother, a 54-year-old government worker, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death last March of his former girlfriend, Carol Gray. Police say he shot her three times in the head at her home, while her 80-year-old grandmother watched helplessly.
In an action that sparked a still-raging controversy, D.C. Superior Court Judge H. Carl Moultrie I sentenced Strother to 14 to 50 years in prison, but suspended all but 365 days, to be served weekends, and ordered him to pay a total of $36,100 for the care and custody of his victim's 6-year-old daughter, in addition to taking out a $25,000 insurance policy in her name.
For Moultrie, the order was his best effort at doing what he could for all concerned. (Strother had never been in trouble with the law before the murder, the judge said, and there was no reason to suppose that he ever would be again. Locking him up for a dozen years or so would serve no rehabilitative purpose, provide no protection for society, and do nothing for the victim's daughter, Moultrie reasoned.)
For Eyvonne Gray, Moultrie's order was an insult, made worse by the fact that she and other members of the family were not consulted. "After all," she says, "we are the victims."
Her point of view, while not recognized in America's legal theory, is widely shared. The name of the case, United States v. Edward Strother, reveals the theory: that the crime was not against Carol Gray or her family but against the United States. Gray's family were at best witnesses, with no control over the charges, the course of the prosecution or the sentence.
Indeed, Moultrie, by taking into account the needs of the murder victim's daughter, went further than the theory mandates. Ordinarily, courts and prosecutors feel no need to keep victims apprised of the progress of a case, beyond telling them when they should appear to testify, even when their victimization is direct -- as in robbery or assault cases. In murder cases, where the direct victim is dead, family members often are reduced to the role of observers.
That's the part Eyvonne Gray -- and growing numbers of the rest of us -- finds so offensive. She said she could accept not being consulted if the judge had determined to hand down the maximum sentence. Anything less than that -- and particularly anything as novel as the sentence given Strother -- should be done only with the acquiescence of the victim, she believes. "If they were going to reward Mr. Strother for killing my daughter, I should have been on the case," said Gray, making no effort to conceal her bitterness.
Her notion, though she might not put it quite that way, is that the government ought to prosecute criminal cases as the representative of the victims, not as though the government is itself the injured party.
It's an attractive notion, though not without problems of its own. Crime victims may be, on the one hand, too inclined to act out of vengeance and, on the other, too vulnerable to pressures and threats from the friends and family of defendants. Prosecutors and courts generally are immune from such pressures.
Still, it would be helpful if legal theorists and legislators looked for ways to make sure that victims' interests are addressed in the judicial proc Moultrie's novel sentence would have been a lot easier to swallow if he had tried to convince the family that it was in their best interest.