The family of Ann Curry, a Columbus woman slain with her two children in a triple homicide 30 years ago, has been recruited to help push for the passage of state legislation that would elevate victims' rights to the state constitution.
The bill, nationally called Marsy's Law, was introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives last Thursday by Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, and Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone. Amending the state constitution would require a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate and majority approval by Georgia voters.
"In Georgia, people convicted or accused of crimes have constitutional rights, but their victims do not," said Parson in a news release issued to the media. "In 2010, I sponsored and passed a bill that put comprehensive victims' rights into state law. In these six years, we've shown we can prioritize the needs of victims and their families without putting undue burden on the criminal justice system.
"We know it works," he said. "Now it's time to join the majority of states by putting victims' rights in the state constitution."
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The law stems from a national effort spearheaded by Dr. Henry Nicholas of California, whose sister, Marsy, was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, according to the news release. The killer confronted Nicholas and his mother at a grocery store after being released on bond without their knowledge. Nicholas has been on a mission to protect victims' rights
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for the Marsy's Law state organization, said the bill has already received an endorsement from Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley, and organizers are seeking support from other local law enforcement and elected officials. "Part of what we're trying to do is raise awareness about this issue in the Columbus area," Robinson said. "I think the closest thing we have now is, not a co-sponsor, but having Sheriff Jolley endorse it, which could help raise the issue there."
Robinson said the organization recently contacted Ann Curry's parents, James and Bernice Johnson, to get their support after reading about their victims' rights advocacy in a recent Ledger-Enquirer story. The organization also reached out to Toya Winder, who along with the Johnson's daughter, Elaine, is trying to revive a victims support group called VOCAL, which the couple founded after the death of their loved ones.
The Johnsons' pregnant daughter, 24-year-old Ann Curry, her 4-year-old daughter, Erika, and 20-month-old son, Ryan, were hacked to death in a triple homicide known as the bush-ax murders. The incident occurred Aug. 29, 1985, at the Currys' 5433 Rockhurst Drive residence. Ann Curry's husband and the children's father, Michael Lee Curry, was convicted of the crime 25 years later.
Elaine Johnson, the Johnson's daughter, said she and her parents are firmly behind Marsy's Law, and VOCAL will decide at its next meeting whether to get involved. The meeting will be held on Feb. 27, 3 p.m., at the Columbus Community Center, 3952 Steam Mill Road.
Johnson said her parents pushed for similar legislation on a federal level about 14 years ago but were defeated. They hope the state effort will be successful and make it easier for victims of violent crimes and their survivors to get the support that they need.
"The problem with homicide is that everybody identifies with the living and not the dead. So all the laws are geared towards the living, the perpetrator," Elaine Johnson said. "As family members (of the victims), everybody is taken off guard, it's clear out of the blue, nobody prepares for a homicide or being the victim of violent crime. And so when you navigate this you shouldn't be trying to navigate it alone. You need the system to be looking out for you. And that's what this is designed to do. It's designed to make the court system something that the survivors could navigate."
The bill, according to the news release, would allow victims:
The right to receive information about their rights and the services available to them.
The right to receive notification of proceedings and major developments in the criminal case.
The right to receive timely notification of changes to the offender's custodial status.
The right to be present at court proceedings and provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized.
The right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that might result in the offender's release.
The right to restitution.
Some of the rights are already a part of state statute that was passed in 2010 due to the work of the Johnsons and other advocates.
"If it's working, why do we need the constitution?" Robinson said some people may ask. "Well, this gives victims equal rights because if you're a defendant or a convict you have constitutional rights. This puts the victim on par with the defendant. A constitutional right always trumps a statutory right or protection."
Fludd, Democratic caucus chairman in the House of Representatives, said it's time that Georgia join the 30 other states that have already enshrined victims' rights in their constitutions.
"Marsy's Law gives victims the same rights as the criminals who harmed them, and support they and their families need during a stressful, scary legal process," he said in the news release. "I'm sponsoring this legislation because I believe victims deserve -- at the very least -- rights equal to those who victimize them."
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.