Victim Families Get “Safe Haven” In Sniper Trials


On the floor of the courthouse in Chesapeake, Va., where sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo is being tried on murder charges, survivors and relatives of those killed are provided with a “safe haven,” modeled after the one used in the Denver-based Oklahoma City bombing trials seven years ago.

The Washington Post reports that those who want to hear the testimony and view the evidence in private can watch on a 42-inch closed-circuit TV in a locked room across from the courtroom. The city’s volunteer police chaplain and a clinical nurse specialist offer counseling and support. Local businesses make sure they have plenty to eat and fresh flowers. “There is no model” for doing this in the case of a venue change, one official said.

(In a conflict in the overlapping trials, Malvo’s was delayed until today so that the jury deliberating in John Allen Muhammad’s case can view some of the same evidence.)

All 10 employees of Fairfax County, Va.’s Victim Services Section will be in Chesapeake during the trial, along with county public information officers, who are helping to provide updates to hundreds of reporters. The Sniper Prosecution Task Force, composed of about 18 local and federal law enforcement officers, is coordinating travel plans and lodging for witnesses for both trials.

Having the trial so far from home is hard on families of the victims and the survivors, who will be leaving behind their support systems at a particularly vulnerable time, said Carroll Ann Ellis, director of the county’s Victim Services Section. Victims experience a wide range of emotions when attending a trial, and Ellis and her employees have tried to establish a support system for those who want help. She has relied heavily on lessons learned from Oklahoma, referring to a guidebook published after the bombings, “Journey to Justice, A Community-Based Response to Victims and High Profile Trials.” With the help of Chesapeake’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program, they have established a safe haven like the one set up in the parish hall of a church near the courthouse in Denver, where the Oklahoma bombing trials were moved. “We’re building on what was learned,” Ellis said.


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