Advocates press for crime victims' bill of rights

 — Victims' rights advocates gathered Wednesday in downtown Raleigh to honor the survivors and family members of those killed while also pushing for action to help them.

The group met at the Crime Victims Memorial Garden on East Lane Street, across from the Legislative Building, to talk about proposed changes to state law to better protect victims and their families.

They plan to lobby lawmakers for House Bill 551, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would outline basic rights for crime victims, including requiring courts to notify victims' families of hearings and allowing victims to protect the disclosure of private information and get restitution from defendants.

The legislation, often called Marsy's Law after a California student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, passed the North Carolina House a year ago but remains bottled up in the Senate.

"We feel like anything and everything that we can do to support crime victims needs to be done," said victim advocate Kit Gruelle. "Crime victims will have a place at the table, that they will be considered by the criminal justice system throughout the process."

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he is passionate about ensuring crime victims more rights.

"The people that are victims of the crime, they're left out in the cold," Harrison said. "Marsy's Law, it does a lot of things. It lets the victim know, the family know, that somebody's out of jail. It lets the victim know when they're going to court."

Rolanda Hedgepeth told the gathering that victims' rights need to be protected. Her younger sister, Faith Hedgepeth, was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012 when she was raped and killed in her off-campus apartment. The case remains unsolved.

"What she left behind was a family and community that's traumatized by her loss," Hedgepeth said. "It's been almost six years, and we still hurt every day from losing her. We've lived in fear for a long time."

Article originally appeared in WRAL on April 11, 2018.