Prosecutor's New Organization Focuses On Crime Victims Easing Their Pain
In his former life as a prosecutor, one of the high points of James G. Clark's career was winning the conviction of Edward R. Grant.
That moment came in 2002, nearly 30 years after Concetta "Penney" Serra, a 21-year-old dental assistant, had been found stabbed to death in the Temple Street Parking Garage in New Haven. As far as cold cases go, this one was frozen. It was solved with the help of DNA evidence that was traced to Grant in 1999.
"It wasn't career-changing, because all victims families have all the pain surrounding the loss of their loved one," Clark said of the case. "But the difference here was the victims had been carrying that around for such a long time."
In a new law practice launched last week, Clark will soon begin providing legal representation and advocacy that puts the victim first. But this is no typical law firm business model. Instead, Clark has created a non-profit organization called the Victim Rights Center of Connecticut, which he runs out of his North Haven home.
The center's aim is to provide high-quality, low-cost legal services to victims of violent crime. That focus will be on representing victims of adult sexual assault, child physical and sexual abuse, homicide and elder abuse. The practice will also provide legal representation for victims of violence based on their sexual orientation.
"We are actively seeking clients from under-served populations, including those in poverty, the elderly, immigrants and the LGBT community, with sensitivity to the special needs of each group," Clark said. "Our goal is to fight for victims' privacy and their constitutional and statutory rights in criminal cases."
Clark explained that in Connecticut, victims of violent crimes have a list of rights, including the right to be notified of key developments in their cases, and a right to be present and heard at sentencing hearings. They have the right to recover money from special victims' compensation funds for their losses, including payment for lost wages as a result of a violent crime.
If a loved one has been murdered or killed as a result of negligence, the law allows for families to recover money for burial services, either from the state or through restitution made by the defendant.
"I'll be focusing on helping people dealing with the impact of violence," Clark said.
"I'm not a survivor of violence, I'm not the family member of a violent homicide victim, so I'm not going to tell you what they feel," he said. "Everyone is going to deal with violence in their own individual way. But I do know that they're all in a painful situation, and I'm hoping that somehow we can do something to help. That's what I tried to do as a prosecutor, and that's what I'm trying to do in private practice."