More than 30 years ago, James and Bernice Johnson of Columbus were subjected to a horror no family should ever have to endure and few of us even want to imagine. Their pregnant daughter Ann Curry, 4-year-old granddaughter and 20-month-old grandson died in a grisly triple murder for which husband and father Michael Curry would be convicted 25 years later.
That's 25 years of grief and cruel legal limbo tacked onto an already shattering tragedy.
The Johnsons turned their grief and loss into advocacy for crime victims and their loved ones, with at best mixed success. Now a bill introduced in the Georgia House might reward the efforts of the Johnsons and others.
The legislation -- bipartisan, as any such effort must surely be -- was introduced last week by Reps. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, and Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone. It's modeled after national legislation called Marsy's Law, named in memory of a California woman who was stalked and murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 1983, two years before Ann Curry and her children died. Adding outrage to atrocity, the killer was released on bond without the knowledge of the victim's family, and confronted her brother and mother in a store.
The state effort has reached out to the Johnsons, as well as to their daughter Elaine Johnson, who is trying to revive the support group VOCAL (Victims of Crime and Leniency) which the Johnsons founded after the 1985 murders.
"The problem with homicide," Elaine Johnson told L-E staff writer Alva James-Johnson, "is that everybody identifies with the living and not the dead. So all the laws are geared towards the living, the perpetrator. As family members 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."
Among the specifics of the bill are victims' access to information about their rights and resources; notification of legal proceedings and other developments in the case; timely notification of changes in the offender's or suspect's status; and the right to be present at, and party to, court proceedings involving plea agreements and/or sentencing.
Some crime victims' rights are already specified in Georgia law since 2010. But as Brian Robinson, former communications director for Gov. Nathan Deal, explained, this legislation would elevate those rights to constitutional protections such as those already accorded to criminal suspects and defendants: "A constitutional right always trumps a statutory right or protection."
Fludd, co-sponsor of the legislation and Democratic caucus chairman in the House, noted that 30 states have already enacted constitutional rights for crime victims: "I believe victims deserve -- at the very least -- rights equal to those who victimize them."
That surely speaks for the vast majority of us.