Friday, May 29, 2009

Media Coverage of Burke Didn't Tell the Whole Story

Since posting my thoughts about Burke's bond hearing on this forum, I've come to the conclusion that there are two things out there re-victimizing Shannon Burke's victim in this situation. The Court System and the Media.

My conjecturing about Mrs. Burke's apparent approval of the deal was based upon her presence in the courtroom. I see victims endure tremendous pressures in these situations, and they very often refuse to participate in the prosecution. Many victims attend these hearings to be a witness on behalf of their abuser. Sometimes they want the relationship to work out and are willing to give their partner another chance. Sometimes they're so intimidated that there will be future retribution that they do "cave in" to their partner's pressure. Sometimes they just want their partner to get help (psych, drug, alcohol, etc.) in the hopes that he'll get better & will be the charming, loving man they know he is capable of being. There are as many reasons why a victim doesn't vigorously work to put her batterer in jail as there are victims. It's not our place to criticize the victim's decisions. We should, instead, focus our attention upon the perpetrator's behavior.

Only WFTV aired a (too) brief comment that Mrs. Burke was not in favor of the stipulated agreement. I don't know if her attorney provided an on camera interview to any of the reporters there, but Catherine Burke's voice (either directly or through her attorney) was not heard on Wednesday - either inside or outside the courtroom. It should have been. And it should have been emphatically reported that she was opposed to her husband's release from jail.

Which brings me to the State's role in re-victimizing this woman who almost lost her life. If she was opposed to the "deal," they absolutely should not have struck it with Burke's attorney. In this era of huge budget cuts, our prosecutors are at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with private attorneys. In addition to concerns about the expense incurred in keeping someone incarcerated, they simply don't have the time/resources to always involve all the parties concerned. In this case, neither of the other women who filed injunctions against Burke immediately after this crime were notified, much less consulted, when the State was negotiating with Burke's attorney. Their lives, and those of their children, are also potentially at risk. Legally speaking, they were not victims in this case and therefore the State is not required to contact them. But an adequately funded prosecutor's office that has sufficient advocates to keep victims safe would (hopefully) be concerned about their well-being too. Because an Assistant State Attorney's pay is often not sufficient to pay student loans and keep a roof over one's head, many of our best young prosecutors and public defenders quickly move into private practice, leaving a new crop of young, usually inexperienced lawyers to keep our community safe. The defense attorneys know this and work it to their advantage.
Catherine Burke had a right to address the judge at the bond hearing. In reviewing the video footage, I did not hear the prosecutor mention that she wanted to address the Court. I did not hear Judge Alva ask if she wanted to address the Court. She was available in the courtroom. I do not know if she wanted to say something, but she should have been asked.

To reduce the charges to "Shooting Into Occupied Dwelling" from Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon (when it possibly could have been charged as Attempted 2nd Degree Murder) is an insult to Mrs. Burke and to domestic violence victims everywhere. It minimizes her husband's behavior and sends the message that what he did wasn't worthy of more vigorous prosecution. I will be surprised if Shannon Burke sees the inside of a jail cell again as a result of this incident. I fear that another, more violent one, is in his future.

Click here to see what rights the Florida Statutes afford to victims of crime.

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