In the photo insert of our new book, LAW & DISORDER, there are facing pictures of Suzanne Marie Collins on the left and Sedley Alley on the right. The image of Ms. Collins is an official U.S. Marine Corps photograph, a portrait taken just after she completed boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina in August 1984. With a waving Stars and Stripes in the background, the trim, light-haired eighteen-year-old beauty is in her uniform and eagle, globe and anchor cap, smiling at her hard-won accomplishment. She hoped her future endeavors in the corps would lead to her twin dreams: to graduate from the Naval Academy and be part of the first class of female Marine fighter pilots.
Instead, in eleven months she would be dead.
And that brings us to the image on the right. It is also an official photograph, taken by the Tennessee Department of Corrections when Mr. Alley, by this time Prisoner 116773, entered the system. Because on the evening of July 12, 1985, the day before Lance Corporal Collins was to graduate from avionics school at the Memphis Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennessee, she was jogging on base when she was attacked, sexually assaulted and brutally murdered by Mr. Alley, an angry and inadequate man about a foot taller than she and twice her weight.
This juxtaposition of images may make some people cringe, and I count John Douglas and myself among them. But we did it for a reason: On that horrible night, these two individuals who had never met, who were so opposite in every way, were bound into a relationship that Suzanne did not want, but that Alley created and then had no right to dismiss.
Is this technical observation important? You’re damn right it is! And here’s why:
For a long time, victims of criminal violence and their survivors had no standing in the criminal justice system. A murder is technically a crime against the state, as it should be. This is a concept that hearkens all the way back to British common law and was a great leap forward in political thinking – i.e., if you harm any of the king’s subjects, you are harming the king himself and therefore you will be dealt with by the state.
But the problem is that too often it meant that all dealings would be between the state and the defendant and the victim was not considered to have any personal stake in the proceeding. Those of us in the victims’ rights movement have always felt that was wrong and have worked hard to give victims, their families and survivors full participation in the trial, sentencing and any subsequent parole hearings.
Many civil libertarians object to this, particularly on the topic of the “victim impact statement,” which is at the heart of our demands regarding sentencing. It is argued that if a judge allows a murder victim’s survivors to tell the court and jury about the victim and how the crime has affected them, it will be prejudicial to the convicted defendant. If the sentencing authority – whether it is jury or judge – is allowed to hear this plea, it will mean unequal justice under law because the defendant is likely to receive a harsher sentence than if no victim impact statement were allowed.
To which we say, Wait a minute!
At the sentencing hearing, the defendant is allowed to bring in all manner of mitigating factors as to why his punishment should be lessened. Does it not seem just that the other party to this unwanted relationship should be able to say why his punishment should be appropriately harsher? This is what we call balancing the scales, at least so far as our imperfect earthly justice can afford.
The offender is the one who created the relationship. He should not be able to weasel out of it when it no longer suits his cruel and evil purposes.
That is only fair.