By Tad DiBiase
When I first began prosecuting homicides many years ago, I was never comfortable with the victim’s families. I never knew what to say or how to act. While many prosecutors rightly consider themselves advocates for the victims, victims aren’t “clients” and prosecutors don’t technically represent the victims.
Sometimes I would handle cases where the homicide victim had no family who cared enough to ever come to court or follow the proceedings in any fashion. I admit that sometimes those cases were easier to deal with because there was no victim and no victim’s family. (As an aside, I used to tell everyone that as a federal prosecutor for the United States I represented 380 million people which in reality meant I didn’t represent any of them! I did enjoy coming home and telling my family that the “United States” was hungry or that the “United States” wanted a beer.)
My discomfort with dealing with victims caused me to rely on the talented victim advocates in our office. One advocate in particular, Marcy Rinker, became my “go to” advocate in all cases. Marcy, who became a good friend of mine, was compassionate, listened well and had a can do spirit that always seemed to give the victim’s family the reassurance that we would win the case and that it was in good hands. She was also an extremely skilled investigator in her own right to the extent that I dubbed her Detective Rinker. I managed to ensure that Marcy became the advocate in all of my cases even when the system tried to thwart me. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had a system where victim advocates rotated each day so that when a new case came in, the advocate on duty that day would handle the case. By cleverly holding off on declaring when a new case came in, I was able to “bring in” a new case only on the days when Marcy was on duty.
Over the years as I watched Marcy, I learned more about how to deal with the victim’s families: listen, offer support and advice if asked, and don’t overpromise. As the years went on I became more comfortable dealing with the families myself and realized there are no magic words that can lessen their pain. Ironically, in my role today as a consultant to the police, prosecutors and families, I almost never meet my families face to face. I still feel their pain through their emails and telephone calls. But I also feel their relief when their loved ones body is found and the suspect arrested. Relief tinged with sorrow though at the realization that their loved on is never coming back. Being a victim or the loved one of a victim is a horrible state to be in and we all need to learn better how to deal with victims and their families.