WHITTIER - Family members of homicide victims from throughout Southern California gathered Sunday to honor their lost loved ones.
The third week of April has been designated since 1981 as National Crime Victims' Rights Week, and the Homicide Victims Memorial Foundation held it's 26th annual memorial at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier.
The ceremony was held in front of a permanent memorial to all murder victims built by the foundation at Rose Hills.
Surrounded by pictures of slain loved ones, family members said they wanted to honor their memories, continue fighting to give crime victims' more rights and bring awareness to the issues that families affected by murder face.
Whittier resident Jan Williams' 27-year-old son, Neal Williams, and her grandchildren Ian, 3, and Devon, 7, were killed in their Rowland Heights home in August 2007. Neal Williams' wife and the mother of the children, Manling Williams, 30, is awaiting trial on capital murder charges.
"I never heard of National Crime Victims' Rights Week until this happened to me," Jan Williams said. "People don't want to know about murder."
Memorials and meetings such as the one at Rose Hills on Sunday bring together affected families into a supportive environment, she said.
Jeanette Chavez's 16-year- old daughter, Sammantha Salas, was shot to death as she walked with a friend in an unincorporated county area near Monrovia in January 2008. She has since become an advocate for crime victims.
Support groups such as Justice for Homicide Victims and Parents of Murdered Children made a world of difference in helping her cope with the tragedy, she said.
She watched her 11-year-old daughter, Brittney, play with other children affected by homicide, such as 4-year-old Alina Ponce, whose mother, 22-year-old Eileen Ponce, was found slain in Pomona in February of 2008.
"These kids realize they're not alone," she said.
Those in attendance at the event included Henry T. Nicholas III, who co-authored the Marsy's Law bill of 2008, which granted rights to crime victims and their families. Also at Rose Hills were a host of prosecutors and victims' rights advocates.
Nicholas spoke to the crowd about the first full year with Marsy's Law on the books. His own sister, Marsy Nicholas, was murdered in 1983.
"As far as implementation of Marsy's Law," he said, "It's exceeded our wildest expectations."
Like many victims' family members, Nicholas said he was prevented from attending the trial of his sister's killer because the defense attorney in the case placed him on the witness list. He said his family has also been forced to deal with parole hearings for the killer every two to three years.
After Marsy's Law, Nicholas said, things have changed.
The law allows parole boards to deny parole for periods of seven, 10 or 15 years.
"The means by which we keep (killers) in jail has become more fair," said Nicholas, who co-founded technology firm Broadcom Corporation.
During trial, he added, family members of homicide victims also now have more protections in place. For example, family members now have legal recourse to challenge defense attorneys who place them on the witness list to keep them from attending the trial.
"Just like criminals have due process rights, there's now a balance where victims also have due process rights," Nicholas said.
Marsy's Law also gave crime victims the right to be represented by an attorney at events such as parole hearings.
"I am deeply gratified that the memory of my sister lives on in this critical law and indebted to the people of California for having the vision to embrace it," Nicholas said. "We've made significant progress, but we have a long way to go to ensure that our judicial system fully embraces and enforces Marsy's Law for all citizens."
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