Harriet Salarno “Yes for Marsy’s Law”

There is no pain worse than losing a child or loved one to murder…except when the pain is magnified by a system that puts criminals’ rights ahead of the rights of innocent victims.  The pain is real.  It is also unnecessary.

On the same night hundreds of young students feel like their lives were just beginning, my daughter, Catina Salarno’s life was ending violently and prematurely.  The night before my daughter, 18 year old Catina, was slated to start her first day of college at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, her high school boyfriend ended her life with a single gunshot to the back of her head.

My family and I were grieving; experiencing pain unlike anything we’d ever felt.  The only comfort was the fact that the murderer was caught by law enforcement and arrested.  But due to a broken system, the pain of losing my daughter was just the beginning.  Instead of feeling vindicated that my daughter’s murderer would be punished and now feel safe that a dangerous man was off the streets, I was left feeling abused and betrayed by a criminal justice system that was supposed to protect my family and my daughter’s rights.

Since Catina’s murderer was arrested and convicted, my daughter Nina and I have had to fight time and time again to keep him behind bars.  Like many other crime victims, we have never been given a chance to heal.  Time and time again, the vicious murderer of my daughter has come up for parole.  Just as we think we will be able to reassemble the broken pieces of our lives, we are forced to relive Catina’s death and continuously uncover old wounds.  At many of the parole hearings many of our family members were not even allowed to be heard, so their pain and anguish in attending these hearings was for nothing.  This man made a choice as to how he was going to spend his life.  When he brutally chose to end my daughter’s life, he knew and understood the choice he was making.  My family and most of all my daughter did not have this choice.  We did not choose to lose Catina.  We did not choose to spend our lives and our life’s savings attending parole hearings and reliving that horrible night over and over.  It is like a reoccurring nightmare that will not go away or give you peace.

That is why as Chair of Crime Victims United of California, I whole heartedly support the Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy’s Law.

California’s constitution guarantees rights for rapists, murderers, child molesters and other dangerous criminals, but nothing for crime victims.  The Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act levels the playing field by guaranteeing the rights of crime victims in our constitution, ending further victimization of innocent people by a system that frequently neglects, ignores and forever punishes them. 

Proposition 9 creates California’s Crime Victims Bill of Rights to:

Require that a victim and their family’s safety must be considered by judges making bail decisions for accused criminals.

Mandate that crime victims be notified if their offender is released.

Require victims be notified of parole hearings in advance to ensure they can attend and have a right to be heard.

Require that victims be notified and allowed to participate in critical proceedings related to the crime, including bail, plea bargain, sentencing and parole hearings.

Give victims a constitutional right to prevent release of their personal confidential information or records to criminal defendants.

The Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act also helps eliminate wasteful and painful parole hearings.  Every year victims are forced to attend parole hearings at their own expense, to testify why their perpetrator should stay in prison and not be released into our communities. Many of these hearings are for dangerous criminals that have virtually no chance of being released.  For example, “Helter Skelter” inmates Bruce Davis and Leslie Van Houghton, followers of Charles Manson, convicted of multiple brutal murders, have had 38 parole hearing in just 30 years.  That’s 38 times the families involved have been forced to relive the painful crime and pay their own expenses to attend the hearing, plus 38 hearings that taxpayers have been forced to subsidize.

Proposition 9 allows parole judges to increase the number of years between parole hearings.

Marsy’s Law respects victims, protects taxpayers and will make California safer.  It is endorsed by public safety leaders, victims’ advocates, taxpayers and working families.  Marcy’s law is about fairness for law abiding citizens.  We deserve rights equal to those of criminals.

On behalf of Crime Victims United and all current and future crime victims, I urge you to support the Crime Victims Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy’s Law.