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Florida Times-Union: Monday Lead Letter: Victims of crime need equal rights in state Constitution

Monday, December 04, 2017

By: Michael J. Liles

My life changed forever on March 23. Another convicted felon broke into my home and murdered my beautiful wife of 41 years.

Our five children and I have agonized over the past eight months, kept mostly in the dark and navigating numerous, brief hearings — all while grieving for the tragic loss of life. We’re doing everything we can to speak up for my bride during the criminal justice process, because her voice was taken from her and from us. Things would be much easier if crime victims and their families had enumerated protections in the Florida Constitution. That’s why we need Marsy’s Law.

I had known Debbie since I was in second grade. I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to marry her. She was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, elementary school music teacher and friend. Needless to say, our entire community is mourning.

Eight months later and the nightmare continues. Nine court hearings and counting just to determine the murderer’s competence to stand trial. There is a constant lack of information as the legal system is on hold for what everyone knows is malingering.

Unlike criminals, who are required by law to be informed of their rights, there is no set procedure for victims or their families. There is no guarantee that those involved with the case will keep us updated with pertinent information, or that we’ll ever be able to speak at hearings. I had to sit silent while the court scheduled one of the useless hearings on Aug 22, which would have been our 42 anniversary.

I have pleaded with the assistant state attorney to not allow the defense attorney to waive the defendant’s appearance at these hearings. I never know if he is going to come out or not.

If the Constitution Revision Commission passes Marsy’s Law, and Floridians indicate their support on the 2018 General Election ballot, a permanent Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights will be added to our state constitution.

The rights of the accused will remain in place and unchanged, but victims will finally have equal protections. They will have the right to receive timely notification of major developments in their case, to have a voice during plea bargains for example.

To be treated with compassion.

I know Marsy’s Law won’t bring my wife back. It would make it easier for us to heal. It will remind us that we have a voice, and that our voice matters. Please join me in supporting Marsy’s Law.

Michael J. Liles, executive director, Justice Coalition

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