An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Pat & John Byron
Interview Transcript

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Interview Transcript

timecode Seymour: I'm gonna start out by asking you both, how did you first get involved in crime victims' movement in the end?

timecode John: We first got involved in 1993 following the death of our daughter, Mary. She was murdered by a former boyfriend who we thought was in jail, but the police assured us that he could not make bail. However, a woman claiming to be his sister posted bail for him and he was released. He stalked her and on the evening of her 21st birthday, he murdered her. This is how we first got involved in the criminal justice system.

timecode Seymour: And what was your experience in the criminal justice system specific to Mary's murder and the case and the whole issue of information and notification?

timecode Pat: I'd like to think we were very lucky, because we came into the... 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 as good, you know, we got as good as we could get.

timecode Seymour: You're... you're both known as sort of being the parents of automated victim notification. How did that come about as a response to all the tragedy you went through?

timecode John: I think it was primarily we got the attention of the news media, and we were fortunate in getting some press, but then we live in Jeffersontown, Kentucky and the Jeffersontown Police Department was not involved; however, they did help us quite a bit in the City of Jeffersontown. Put up $60,000 as seed money to the City of Louisville to develop a computerized victim notification system. From this money Mike Davis and Young Nugent, two young engineering graduates from the University of Louisville started putting together the system in the basement of the Jefferson County Jail.

timecode From this programming the VINE system started within the City of Louisville. Following that, the City of Louisville took a hundred thousand dollars to the state of Kentucky and presented it to Governor Paul Patton as a challenge to the state to put in the VINE system. About a year and half later, VINE became law in the state of Kentucky, and this was the first state to have it statewide. Now there are 14 states, I believe, that have VINE statewide and hundreds of counties throughout the country that now use the VINE system.

timecode Pat: I like to think it... it was the best citizens and industry in government coming together to work for the good of everybody.

timecode Seymour: And, Pat, that partnership you described, that three, does that happen very often in social justice issues or in ...

timecode Pat: I haven't seen it happen very often.

timecode Seymour: That's just kind of amazing.

timecode Pat: Yeah.

timecode Seymour: When you were sort of forced to enter the criminal justice system 10 years ago, what was the context of the era? You're a little bit different from some of the other folks we've interviewed in terms of you had some rights and services. Can you describe how you were treated?

timecode Pat: We were treated very well. The Commonwealth Attorney's Office guided us through the system. They gave us a victim's advocate. They were always right "Johnny on the spot" to answer any questions we had. We were fortunate enough to have our own attorney as well who was a great help, but I have to compliment greatly the Commonwealth Attorney's office and the victims' advocates, and boy, are they hardworking people.

timecode Seymour: In terms of ... in your pioneering area which is automated victim notification, what do you think was the greatest challenge that you all faced in affecting change in getting other people to see the importance of victim notification?

timecode Pat: I'd have to say it was seeing that it really affects real people. That, I think, is why John and I were so very vocal, and I... I do still a lot with VINE because it's not just a system. It's not just another system out there. It is a system that does a lot of good, and it does a lot of good for real people, but it protects them in a way that you don't ever see them.

timecode Seymour: And if there wasn't automated notification, I think what would the end result be for a lot of the victims that now use the service?

timecode Pat: There would be a lot more crime. I'm sure there would be. Because 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.

timecode Seymour: When you were trying to get VINE set up initially in J-Town and then in... in Kentucky and now, of course, nationwide, what are some of the strategies that you employed that were successful in terms of getting people to understand the need for it but also to implement it?

timecode John: I think the news media getting it out appearing on some T.V. shows, getting to know the (coughs), pardon me... the local announcers and news personnel so that they would recognize us and what we were attempting to do and getting their cooperation. Because it's... I think it's through the news media and the public that you can achieve these things. Without their support, you get nowhere.

timecode Pat: We also had a champion in Dave Armstrong who was the County Judge at the time, and he... he championed this cause through the Office for Women which was run at the time by Marsha Roth.

timecode Seymour: And Marsha Roth is now...

timecode Pat: Marsha Roth is now the Executive Director for the Mary Byron Foundation.

timecode Seymour: Right. And I'm gonna ask you a little bit more about that in a second. When you talked about having it championed do you think that makes a really big difference in... 'cause you were trying to effect a major policy change. Is that something that's absolutely necessary?

timecode Pat: Oh, I think so. Without a doubt, because I've heard stories of how the fights that, you know, that went on. You know, we don't need to spend this kind of money and Marsha and Dave Armstrong were definitely very pro-this, because there was law but there were no teeth to back it up.

timecode Seymour: Any failures in terms of trying to implement VINE automated notification?

timecode John: I think there were a few minor issues. One occurred, and we were involved in it. We got a call early one morning that Donovan had been released. I called the local VINE people and checked, and they said that he was being transferred from one jail to another. The problem was the same code was being used in the Corrections Department computer system where any time a person left one jail they were essentially given a release code being transferred to another state prison or facility. Well, they've since corrected that. They now have a separate code for transfer, and when you get a call, it now says they had been transferred, so you know the difference.

timecode Seymour: And do you think with ... 'cause technology sort of moves at the speed of sound that it's adapting to all the new, I think, new possibilities and learning from things like having the wrong codes?

timecode Pat: Uh huh, yeah, I agree with that. It's not a perfect system. Nothing is perfect. Every now and then something will happen, but I would say 99 percent of the time it's spot on, you know.

timecode John: The only weakness I see in the system is notification of victims as to how it works and that it is available to them because it is entirely a voluntary system. The victim must call in and register or can do it through the automated phone system, they can register, but if the victim does not register, the system will not work and it's getting this information out to victims that so important.

timecode Seymour: If you could get described the one greatest accomplishment in the field of victim's rights and services, and this is the hardest question everyone has said, but what do you think is the biggest accomplishment? We're 30 years old now.

timecode Pat: Gosh. You know, for us, I'd say VINE, but I know that there have been major strides in giving rights to victims such as having the right to be present in court, having the right to make a statement at the trial, being treated... you know, victims don't want more. What they want is they want equal treatment under the law. The... the... the perpetrator gets all these rights and the victims just want the same amount.

timecode Seymour: What do you think is needed today, John and Pat, to continue the growth of our field or what's missing in terms of the... the future of our field?

timecode John: I would have to say primarily public awareness. We hear it so much on the news about the current world situation and possible war. We hear the economics. We hear of the world problems. We hear of sports and everything else, but victims do not seem to get the news media. If we get an article it's usually buried very deeply in the newspaper, and if the T.V. media happens to have some time to fill, we may get some space, but we need more public service announcements, press and newspaper reporters to take an interest and to follow the articles and to follow up with us.

timecode Pat: We also need victims to get involved, because you're victimized by the crime. You're victimized by the courts, and when it's all over, you just want to go away, and we want to get more people to stand up and say, "I'm mad, I'm not gonna take it anymore."

timecode Seymour: Could you... Ann had recently been to one of your groups in Kentucky. Could you just talk a little bit about your mutual supports groups and... and how that works?

timecode Pat: There are a lot of support groups out there. I do know there's Parents of Murdered Children, and a lot of other groups. We belong to a group in the... statewide group in Kentucky called Kentuckians' Voice for Crime Victims, and it was started by Earl and Ann Pruitt who are wonderful people, who have lost not only one son, but two to murder. They have fought through the legislators in Frankfort to get victims' rights in the State and we are an organization of about a thousand people that will go and we will lobby in Frankfort, and we will, if we can, we try to go to court and just sit there as a friend of the victim, which we are allowed to do under victims' rights and just, you know, kind of be there for people.

timecode Seymour: That's really wonderful. Now I hear Earl... Earl and Ann, I just... a lot of people... when you hear that name and go whoa.

timecode Pat: They're... they're great, great people. They're great people.

timecode Seymour: When I'm there, I'm gonna visit. If... if you had a new person coming in to volunteer or a recent victim, what advice can you give to people who just recently joined the field based on... on your experiences?

timecode Pat: Don't give up.

timecode John: Also, I would have to say network. You can't do it by yourself. You need the support of those who have gone before you, those who have been there, who have made the contacts, 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.

timecode Seymour: Great advice. The future. What vision do you both have for the future of our field? We're 30 years old... for the next 10 or 20 years?

timecode Pat: It would nice... it would be nice to see it not have to have a future, that it was a peaceful world and, you know, everybody got along. But I think just the continuing support, and rights of victims of all crimes. You see a lot of support of victims of violent crimes, but there are victims of other kind of crimes too that just go un... unrealized and maybe it's a poor choice of words, unappreciated because victimizing the person it also victimizes all of society.

timecode John: I think what we need to do also is... I'd like to see the foundation grow and be able to become more active in the education of young people, especially the sixth grade probably through the twelfth in the problems with domestic violence, but domestic violence is usually a learned item. It's what they see at home, what they've seen on television. It's something children pick up on, and it's not necessarily something we can eliminate but maybe we can minimize if we can educate the children as to what it is, especially the young women, educate them as to what the signs are of control that lead to domestic violence, what situations to avoid, what to watch out for in relationships, things of that nature. I think education may be a good part of the key to minimizing the crime.

timecode Seymour: And is that a goal of the... tell us a little bit about the Mary Byron Foundation. It's a couple years old now?

timecode Pat: Yes, we are, and we were formed by a seed grant from Appriss Corporation, who is the providers of the VINE system, and we... our mission is to educate and can find innovative programs throughout the United States that will end or at least break the cycle of domestic violence.

timecode Seymour: And, re... I know recently you did ... called to the field and you got a few responses with a lot of good stuff out there?

timecode Pat: We're doing a program, because we're such new kids on the block, and so we're doing a program. It's called... awards program called Celebrating Solutions, and we sent out a request for anybody who had any kind of program that they thought was of merit that needed funding, and we're hoping to fund 10 of them at $10,000 each. No strings attached. We got over 300 applications which we have whittled down to 30, and we have recently sent out a second set of questionnaires and we will take that 30 and we will whittle down and hopefully in the... in the Spring, somewhere in April hopefully, that we will... we will announce four awards. And it's throughout the United States.

timecode Seymour: Excellent. Both of you were also just recently elected to a Board of the National Victim's Constitution Amendment and that work. This isn't an official question. It... do you think it's important to have a Federal amendment and if you think it's important, why...why is that?

timecode John: Well, I think this was first brought up in 1996 when we first met with President Clinton. I asked him at that time if we couldn't get a Federal law for victim's notification, hence the VINE system, and at the time he said he was aware of it and he would have to look into it. We were called back again a few months later to Washington where he made a public announcement that it would be a U.S. Constitutional Amendment. The major difference being if we had it as a Federal law, it would only have pertained to Federal crimes in the Federal court system. If we can get it as a constitutional amendment then it pertains to everyone in every territory covered by the United States including those military facilities overseas, and it would be a right that no one could question in court and no one could deny a victim. So that is why we went for the constitutional amendment.

timecode Seymour: You feel pretty strongly about that?

timecode John: Yes we do.

timecode Pat: Yeah, we do.

timecode Seymour: What do you... what do you think is gonna be needed and, as you know, we have an expanded really fabulous word now and Senator Kyl's introduced SJ-1 this year. What's gonna be needed to really make this a reality, 'cause it's been introduced for 10 years now?

timecode Pat: 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... to one class of people. It is a social, economical, religious, transient, just transcends all those those barriers.

timecode John: The other thing I think we need -- I've been following it closely, and it has been scheduled for the Senate floor for a vote; however, every time some world problem has come up or some major situation that has sidetracked this item from the vote -- I think we need to get a few Senators to push to get it up there again for a vote and the same thing in the House of Representatives. We need to get a few champions there who work with us and get it to the forefront. I think it will pass if we can get it there.

timecode Seymour: We do. That's why we have you two on the Board.

timecode Pat: It's not gonna cost money. It's just gonna... it's just gonna, you know, it's just something that needs to be passed.

timecode Seymour: Well, is... is there anything I didn't ask you this morning that you'd like to talk about?

timecode John: At this point ...

timecode Pat: I don't think so.

timecode John: No, I... at this point I don't think... think of anything else that we didn't cover.

timecode Pat: Yep. (Break in interview)

timecode Seymour: About the need for public awareness and...

timecode Pat: This is just a good example that I brought about public awareness for VINE. We're surprised how many people still in Jefferson County and the state of Kentucky still don't know what VINE is and what it will do for them.

timecode John: VINE system also has been recently making the newspaper on national articles and up for its place in other states, so we still need to get the word out a lot. It's obvious from the... what we've been reading, that many people do not know this is available to them. (Break in interview)

timecode Seymour: And would you also say the Mary Byron Found...

timecode John: Foundation?

timecode Seymour: Foundation, Louisville, Kentucky.

timecode Pat: Pat Byron, B-Y-R-O-N, Mary Byron Foundation, President, Louisville, Kentucky.

timecode John: John Byron, B-Y-R-O-N, Vice President, Mary Byron Foundation, Louisville, Kentucky.