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Public Statements

Supporting The Mission And Goals Of 2010 National Crime Victims' Rights Week

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleague and friend from California (Mr. Costa) as original cosponsors of this resolution to recognize and support the mission and goals of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

I want to thank Mr. Costa for his work on the Victims' Rights Caucus. California, from where he comes, is the State that started the victims rights movement. While Mr. Costa was in the California legislature, he presented and sponsored the Three Strikes law and also victim notification in that State. He and I are co-chairs of the Victims' Rights Caucus, and this caucus is comprised of 62 members from both sides of the aisle who are dedicated to protecting the interests and needs of crime victims in our Nation. Crime issues are not partisan issues, they are people issues. They don't recognize borders or district boundaries. They affect everybody in this country.

National Crime Victims' Rights Week began in 1980, when President Reagan first called for a national observance to recognize and honor the millions of crime victims and survivors in our country. Victims' Rights Week also pays tribute to the thousands of victim service providers and professionals who provide critical support to victims throughout our country every day. The theme of this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week is ``Crime Victims' Rights: Fairness. Dignity. Respect.''

Mr. Speaker, crime touches all of us and all of our friends and all of our neighbors. It happens in every State and every district. It has many forms. In 2008, 21 million crimes were committed in the United States. Of these, 5 million were violent crimes, 16 million were property crimes, and there were over 11,000 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2006. In 2008, the incidence of identity fraud rose for the first time in nearly 5 years to 10 million victims here in the United States.

Crime victims are not just statistics, they are real people, real men, women and children, their families, their loved ones. What are we doing to help them? Well, we are raising awareness and highlighting issues important to victims. We are also protecting critical programs that are already in existence. Many of these programs were created by the landmark bill passed in 1984 called the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. This law created the VOCA fund. It's a novel concept where criminals who are convicted and sent to our Federal penitentiaries donate into a fund. That fund then is used for crime victims and crime-victim-related organizations throughout the United States.

This fund requires criminals to pay for the crimes they have committed. This money then pays for the rent on the courthouse, so to speak, pays for medical expenses of the victim, and sometimes it covers the victims' funeral costs. This is money that is funded solely by criminals, it is not taxpayer money, and the money should be always used for victims of crime.

VOCA is the only Federal fund that caters to the needs of victims. Each year, over 4,400 agencies, 10,000 victim assistance programs, and about 4 million victims receive support and financial compensation from this fund whose coffers are filled by criminals who are sent to our penitentiaries.

The Office of Management and Budget estimates that the Crime Victims Fund in 2011 will have $4.3 billion, with an additional $1 billion to be deposited during the year of 2011. This money is solely for the victims of crime, funded with money paid by criminals who cause criminal conduct. We should make sure that this money stays with the victims and is not taken by our Federal bureaucrats and used for other pet projects.

Mr. Speaker, crime victims are real people who have survived sometimes gruesome acts of violence. Their voices must not be excluded from our criminal justice system. The criminal justice system should be justice not only for defendants of crime, but victims of crime as well.

As we take the opportunity to honor victims and their courage and their memories, we renew our commitment to protect the rights of crime victims and provide them with effective assistance programs. We also commend the countless professionals and volunteers who have dedicated their lives to help crime victims and survivors of crime.

I urge support of this resolution, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, during this debate, on which we agree this legislation should be passed, we have talked a lot about victims. The victims that we have talked about are more than statistics. They are real people.

Before I came to Congress, I spent over 20 years on the criminal court bench in Houston, Texas. I saw about 25,000 people come to the courthouse who were charged with the most serious crimes in our society. Along with those defendants came other people who didn't want to be at the courthouse either, but they were there because they were chosen by defendants to be prey, in many cases, and those were victims of crime. They came to the courthouse. They were all races, all ages, of both sexes, and of all philosophies, but crime does not discriminate against who the victim may be.

Before I became a judge, I was a prosecutor in Houston, Texas. I spent my last year prosecuting capital cases. In my office across the street, I have a lot of photographs of my kids, of my four kids and of my eight grandkids, but I also have two other photographs that have been in my office ever since I was at the courthouse in Houston, first as a prosecutor and then as a judge.

This is a photograph of Kevin Wanstrath. He was born the same year as my son Kurt, but Kevin didn't have the fortune of living very long. This photograph was taken just a few days before he was murdered.

Kevin didn't have a lot going for him when he was born. He was born in Biloxi, Mississippi. His mother didn't want him, so she threw him in a Dempsey Dumpster. A homeless guy found him, turned him over to Catholic charities, and he was taken care of in that orphanage. A couple in Houston, Texas, by the name of John and Diana Wanstrath, a married couple, couldn't have children. They found Kevin. They adopted him, and they made Kevin Wanstrath their child.

Unbeknownst to them, there was a relative who was plotting to kill John and Diana Wanstrath. Under Texas law, if the parents die, the child gets everything. On a summer night in Houston, Texas, two individuals posing as real estate agents came to the front door of John and Diana Wanstrath. They first shot John in the head and then shot Diana in the head. Then while Kevin Wanstrath was asleep in his baby bed and was curled up to his favorite little teddy bear--he had blue terry cloth pajamas on--he was shot in the back of the head. He was assassinated on the altar of greed.

There were four henchmen involved in that murder. It turned out that, during the trial, we proved that there was another homicide, that Diana Wanstrath's mother was also murdered by these henchmen.

That was a long time ago. Two of the killers received the death penalty. Two others went to prison for a long time. But I've always wondered what Kevin Wanstrath would turn out to be. He was 14 months old in this photograph. He didn't get to live very long, but he was a victim.

Today, we've talked about victims of crime, but they were and they are, Mr. Speaker, real people, people who just wanted to live, to grow up, to play in their backyards with their dads--things that never happened for Kevin, for a lot of other kids in our culture and for a lot of adults, too.

We as a Nation must understand that violence against people in this country has to end and that people who commit crimes against children and others, violent crimes, must be held accountable under our laws for the choices that they make. We as a society and we as a culture are not judged by the way we treat the rich, the famous, the powerful, the important, the politicians. We are judged by the way we treat the weak, the elderly, the children. That is how we are judged.

That's why this resolution and other resolutions which talk about victims are important, so I urge all of my colleagues to support this resolution and to remember that victims are people, too. And that's just the way it is.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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