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It’s a simple matter of dignity. On “America’s Most Wanted,” we aired the case of a woman who was kidnapped by a truck driver. She was brutally beaten and raped. He broke every one of her ribs, as well as her sternum, and slit her throat with a jagged beer can. This incredible woman not only found the strength to live, she found the courage to come forward and help us find her attacker. He was convicted and sentenced to prison. When he was up for parole, she was not offered the simple dignity of a 34-cent stamp, a simple letter informing her of the hearing. Put aside the fact that he was paroled, and that he raped another woman as soon as he got out — as infuriating and outrageous as it may be. The point is simply that this woman was victimized twice: once by this lowlife and once by the judicial system that deems her irrelevant at best and obstructionist at worst. And that is why we need the victim’s rights constitutional amendment. The amendment, since its introduction by Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support for one reason: It’s a fair and balanced attempt to offer some rights to those who have become victims of crime. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution since its creation, five provide protections for those accused, or convicted, of crimes; not one provides protection for the victims of crime. And that leads to the worst abuses. Consider this common scenario: A young girl is murdered. The defense attorney wants to bar the victim’s parents from the courtroom, because he figures it will hurt his case for the jury to see their suffering. So he claims they may become material witnesses in the trial, and they’re banned from the proceedings. Of course, they’re never called, but the attorney has had his way. And the parents are denied the simple dignity of sitting in a courtroom while the man accused of taking their daughter’s life away stands trial. The amendment, known popularly as the “Victim’s Bill of Rights,” addresses this wrong, and others, by guaranteeing just a few simple rights: to be informed of, and not be excluded from, critical proceedings; to be notified of a prisoner’s pending release, sentencing or acceptance of a negotiated plea; to notice if the prisoner escapes; and to an order of restitution from the convicted offender. The amendment would also prevent felons from profiting from their crimes (some felons, for example, sell their stories). That’s basically it. Those who have bottled this bill up in the Senate, arguing that the bill will somehow harm the rights of the accused, are just blowing smoke. Nothing in this bill comes close to touching any right of any accused person. Indeed, it mainly involves things that happen after conviction. Take the case of Mary Francis Gentile, a gentle, 66-year-old woman brutally murdered in her own home by a drifter. Her daughter, Mary Ann Miller, came to us, and we found the accused killer, and we found the accused killer. After his conviction, Mary Ann fought for — and won — the right to make a statement at his sentencing. It was the first victim’s rights statement in Florida — a simple moment of recognition and respect. Did it abrogate the defendant’s rights? Of course not. The amendment offers these simple, but powerful, moments for the victims and their families. Nothing in this bill abrogates the rights of the accused to a jury of his peers, counsel, due process, a speedy trial and protection against double jeopardy, self-incrimination and cruel and unusual punishment. These rights make ours the most shining, proud and just system in the world, assuring as much as is humanly possible that innocent people are not sent to prison. And nothing could be more important, if we want to call ourselves a free nation. But we can offer rights to those who have become victims of crime — more than 40 million people a year — without abrogating defendants’ rights. Presidents Bush and Clinton, and Attorneys General Ashcroft and Reno, endorsed this bill. When I spoke to the convention of governors, 49 of them offered their support. Every poll that has been taken shows that the American people support it, too. Let me tell you why I support it. My son Adam was murdered more than 20 years ago. In the years since, I have talked to hundreds of parents of murdered children. On the question of dealing with the pain, I tell them that I know the wound will never heal; that all they can do is try to love each other, and to remember how lucky they were to have that child for the time they had them. But on the question of the criminal justice system, I tell them: Be prepared. You are about to become victims a second time. In some places, state law offers you a tiny amount of protection; in other states, you have absolutely no rights at all. You will be ignored, you will be insulted, and you will not be allowed as much as a whimper of protest. I am tired of having to tell that to the parents of murdered children, every day, every week, every year. If we pass the Victim’s Bill of Rights, parents won’t have to hear that message anymore. John Walsh is the creator and host of the television show “America’s Most Wanted.” He is a national advocate for victims’ rights.

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