Friday, July 9, 2004

Albq. Journal

(Per trial of Patrick Murrillo for death of Stephanie Houston)




By Linda Atkinson

N.M. Victims Rights Project


    Regarding the article, "Jury Clears Driver in Woman's Death":

    A more accurate heading for the article would have been, "Jury Acquits After Prosecutor Fails To Prosecute."

    Justice is a word that evokes constant debate and discussion, and often it's the only thing that grieving families have to help ease the pain of loss when a loved one has fallen victim to a crime. Unfortunately, for yet another New Mexico family, justice has been placed forever out of reach by the inaction and inattention of prosecutors.

    The recent acquittal of the defendant in the Stephanie Houston case is one more tragic illustration of the flaws in the New Mexico criminal justice system.

    Two State Police officers took over this cold case and developed strong evidence against the defendant. In addition, Houston's father hired a private detective who discovered that her relationship with the defendant had revealed the defendant to be a violent, abusive man and that Houston, as late as two days before her death, had spoken to legal representatives about seeking a restraining order, and had made an appointment with a domestic violence shelter.

    There were witnesses available to testify that the defendant had beaten Houston the evening prior to her death, and that she had made repeated visits to the emergency room because of other beatings (suffered) at the hands of the defendant.

    None of this evidence was presented to the jury in the case, and Houston's family had no way to compel the prosecution to give the jury the full picture. As a consequence, Houston and her family never truly had their day in court, and her survivors feel victimized yet again. And most tragically, the family has no way to fix these mistakes, because the defendant's double-jeopardy rights prevail, even when they are based on a trial where the prosecution fell down on the job.

    Although the system properly protects the rights of defendants, there are no checks, no protections, for the victims of crime and their families. As a consequence, when the state is inattentive or worse, victims pay the price, again.

    This is a call to action. New Mexicans must step up and demand that their public officers, whether police or prosecutors, respect and support the rights of victims of crime. Too many families in this state fight to bring an accused to justice only to see that elusive goal slip through their fingers as the police and prosecutors who should be supporting them fail in their duties.