By John Finnerty
The Daily Item Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Speaking in the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg on Monday morning, Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren recalled how her world was shattered when her brother and father were killed in a car crash six years ago.
Her grief turned to anger when she found police unwilling to share information about the case and learned that the prosecutors had no intention of filing charges against the woman who caused the crash.
Frustrated that the case appeared to be getting shelved, Warren used her attorney skills to launch her own investigation, convincing the Luzerne County district attorney’s office to file charges against Lori Ferrey, 45, of Freeland, seven months after the crash. According to press accounts, Ferrey was driving 70 mph in a 45-mph zone at the time of the accident. Court records show she eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to at least six months on probation for two counts of vehicular homicide.
Warren was at the Capitol as part of the 30th Pennsylvania Victims Rights Rally.
Warren said that her experience still strongly influences the way she runs her office. As district attorney, she tries to be a champion of victim rights, she said. Each day, she looks at the funeral cards of her brother and father posted on her desk, a signal of why she sought the office.
Warren’s experiences also illustrate the importance of victims recognizing their rights and taking advantage of the opportunities to get involved in the judicial process.
“At times, I’m dismayed at the lack of victims’ involvement,” Warren said.
In some cases, victims or their relatives may be too emotionally devastated to want to participate in court proceedings. But, particularly at sentencing, the presence of victims can play an important role in shaping a judge’s determination of penalties, she said.
There have been significant strides made in the past three decades to give victims and their relatives greater consideration, said Pennsylvania victims advocate Jennifer Storm. But, in some ways, it’s an uneven balance — with defendants’ rights enshrined in constitutional protections while victims’ rights have been cobbled together through laws passed over the years.
Among the biggest gains was the victims’ right to appear before the parole board before a convict is released, Storm said. Act 14 of 2013 requires that the parole board hear from victims, she said. Since that law passed, 130 victims have taken advantage of the law to describe the impact of crimes on their lives, Storm said.
Monday’s event was held as part of national Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which began Sunday.