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Letter to the Editor

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Justice for victims

Marianne Purcell Dunavant, wife of District Attorney General Mike Dunavant, knows a few things about violent crime and the difficulty that accompanies the journey for justice.  Not because her husband prosecutes cases, but because she has a personal experience with violent crime.   

In 2007, Marianne and her fiancé Chris Caris, 33, were planning their life together. They had just purchased an engagement ring, Chris was pursuing his dream of fishing on the professional circuit, and it seemed everything was lining up for him to realize that dream, and live it out with Marianne.  

All of those plans and dreams ended on Oct. 26, 2007, when Chris and 18-year-old Joshua Cole were murdered in a robbery at the Bellacino’s Restaurant in Nashville where Chris was the night manager.  

The security camera captured the entire scenario.  Chris and Joshua, along with the other employees, did everything the robbers ordered them to do.  They gave them the money, they laid down on the floor, and then as the robbers were leaving, one returned and shot Chris and Josh execution style in the back of the head.  

Chris and Josh each had their entire lives ahead of them.  They had plans and dreams, they loved, and they were greatly loved by many.  They existed.  But, not in court.  

In many Tennessee courts, prosecutors are not permitted to show a picture of the victim during trial. Those that do often see it come back to threaten their case in the appeal process, as a request to overturn the conviction because it was “prejudicial” for the jury to see the picture of the victim. 

The jury will, however, see the crime scene photos and any video if there was one.  Does that make sense?

The Haynes/Burks Victim Life Photo Bill (HB1524/SB1726) is being considered to remedy that crazy situation.  It would allow prosecutors to show a picture of the victim during trial if the victim is deceased or unable to attend the trial.  

However, opposition is urging legislators to kill the bill, saying that showing a picture of the victim during trial is “prejudicial” for the jurors. Let’s see…During a trial, when the victim is alive, the jury is able to see AND hear from the victim.  Is that prejudicial?  And juries see crime scene photos too. Is that prejudicial? Personally, I call that “evidence!” 

Marianne wants to know, how in the world is showing a picture of Chris as he was in real life any MORE prejudicial to the jury than the gory crime scene pictures the jury had to see, or the actual video tape of the murder?  

And, shouldn’t the jurors have a right to see who the victim was?  They certainly see the offender all dressed up with his best face showing. I stand with Marianne and all the other victims like Chris and Josh, and even more, I’m disgusted. This practice is disrespectful to the victim and to their family.  To have a victim’s photo banned from the very proceedings determining the justice for that victim is not only unfair, it is outrageous. In a system where offenders have most of the rights, and the victims very little, banning a photo image of the victim makes it seem as if the victim is a dirty little detail of the trial, and  not really important or significant for the jury to even care about. 

If you believe that victims should have the right to be represented in a trial, as they were in life BEFORE the crime, you can help make this happen. Please don’t walk away thinking there is nothing one person can do about this. Let the legislators on this committee know you support this bill, and that you want them to pass it. They work for you, after all. 

Five minutes of your time and your one voice will join many other voices, who, like you, believe this is the right thing to do. The legislators will hear one powerful voice – the voters who gave them their job in the first place.  

The information about who to contact is on our website at www.tnvoicesforvictims.org    Your voice CAN make a difference when it joins other voices.  


Verna Wyatt

Executive Director

Tennessee Voices For Victims

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