An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive
















Pat & John Byron
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Pat & John Byron
Interviewees:Pat and John Byron;
Louisville, KY
Date of Interview:January 12, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

Pat and John Byron




Biography

Pat and John Byron established the Mary Byron Foundation in memory of their daughter, who was murdered in 1993. The Foundation is a public granting charity dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence. Pat serves as President and John is Vice-President of the Board of Directors.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

The Byron's became activists after the murder of their daughter, Mary, in 1993. She was killed by a former boyfriend who was in jail and would not be granted bail, or so the Byron's were told. He was bailed out and began stalking Mary. On her 21st birthday, he murdered her. As the case was prosecuted, the Byron's felt somewhat that their treatment by the system was pretty good. Pat says,

"I'd like to think we were very lucky, because we came into the system when there were some rights for victims, and I feel that we were treated fairly, and as hard as the whole process was.....we got as good as we could get."
Despite feeling fortunate to have so many rights, the Byron's recognized the problem of offenders being released without notice to victims and started working with the City of Louisville to create a computerized victim notification system.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

The Byron's were well treated throughout the criminal justice process. The advocate from the Commonwealth Attorney's office assigned to assist them was readily available to answer any of their questions. They also hired their own attorney who was also very helpful during the process.

Greatest Challenge

In their pursuit of creating an automated victim notification system, the Byron's greatest challenge was persuading individuals that the lack of notification was an issue that "affects real people."

"..we've heard stories from people who have been notified, and if they hadn't been notified, they would have been seriously injured or maybe even murdered."

Successful Strategies

The circumstances of Mary Byron's murder drew a lot of attention from the media. The Byron's cite the media attention as one of their most successful strategies for educating criminal justice officials, legislators, and the public about the need for the notification system. The Byron's lived in Jeffersontown, KY and received help from the police department and city in raising seed money for the creation of Louisville's notification system. They also received assistance from two engineering graduates from the University of Louisville who created the first automated notification system in their basement. Eventually, with the Byron's and the City of Louisville taking the lead, legislation was passed putting the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) system into law. Now there are 36 states and over 1,300 counties that use the VINE system. Pat Byron likes to think of their success as "citizens and industry and government coming together to work for the good of everybody."

Failures

As with the creation of any new technology, the VINE system has needed adjustments. The Byron's were one of the first individuals to discover a problem with the system. While their daughter's murderer was in jail, they received an automated call that he had been released. After checking on his status, they discovered that he wasn't being released, just moved to another facility. The problem in the system was that the same code was being used for a release as well as a transfer. As a result of their experience, a separate code for the transfer of prisoners was created. John Byron sees the only weakness in the system today is how victims are informed about VINE and that victims have to request to be notified.

Greatest Accomplishment

For the Byron's, the greatest accomplishment in the field is the creation of VINE. However, they do acknowledge the great strides that have been made in passing victims' rights legislation. Pat Byron knows what victims want: "They want equal treatment under the law. The perpetrator gets all these rights and the victims just want the same amount."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Based on the Byron's experiences, their advice to new victim activists would be to never give up and to network. In their own words,

"You can't do it by yourself. You need the support of those who have gone before you, those who have been, who have made the contact, know the people to see, and the way to present the material. It's hard to learn on your own. It's hard to get started. Use the resources that are available."

Vision for the Future

The Byron's envision a world where victim services are no longer needed. They would like to see that all victims receive the services and rights they need. Through the Mary Byron Foundation, they have launched an awards program called "Celebrating Solutions." Through the Foundation, they annually award $10,000 grants to programs that sponsor innovative approaches to end domestic violence. The Byron's -- who serve on the Board of Directors of the National Victims Constitutional Amendment Network -- also have a vision that the field will achieve success by getting Congress to pass a Federal constitutional amendment.

"I think we need to have a grassroots effort and get people informed, get them to talk to their legislators, their senators, their representatives, and let them know how important that it is, because it can happen to anybody. Crime can happen to anybody. It's not restricted to one class of people."