When Protecting Criminals Comes at the Expense of Victims
By Nikki Goeser & John R. Lott Jr. for RealClearPolitics
It took four years and nine months before Nicolas Cruz was finally sentenced for the murder of seventeen people in the horrific Parkland massacre.
So much of the legal system focuses on fairness to the criminal; but the damage to the victims and their families as they wait for trial is tremendous. Those who have to testify or give victim impact statements must continually think about what they will say at trial. There is also uncertainty about the verdict and whether the murderer will be punished.
In the Parkland case, the victims were denied the closure of Cruz receiving the death penalty.
We have seen the consequences of trial delays firsthand. Nikki Goeser, the co-author here, helplessly witnessed her husband, Ben, murdered in front of her by her stalker on April 2, 2009. The murderer had long been obsessed with her. Nor was there any doubt about who the murderer was. Hank Wise shot her husband to death in front of 50 witnesses and was filmed on a restaurant’s security video.
Incredibly, Nikki is still dealing with the legal fallout from that case. The murderer has continued stalking her, and a new trial, originally scheduled for the third attempt on Nov. 8, now won’t occur until January 2023.
There was no doubt that he had carefully planned the murder in advance.
The night before the murder, he had posted on social media:
Predator vs. Prey. I know who you are, run. Where will you work where I can’t find you? At home, at dinner, in your sleep, every f***ing waking moment. This is going to be very painful. You’ve pissed me off now. You are about to see my bad side. What kind of life do you have now?! You are forever un-forgiven.
In the stalker’s truck in the restaurant parking lot the night of Ben’s murder, police found two more guns (a shotgun and rifle), ammo, a baseball bat, binoculars, gloves, rope, and a knife.
This was a clear-cut case. But the trial was delayed several times and didn’t happen until three years later, on April 9, 2012. Nikki knew she would have to testify. As each trial date approached, she had to prepare herself and relive the horrifying events.
Victims worry about whether they will do a good job. What will the defense attorney do to them? Nikki couldn’t put it behind her. We know the nightmares that she had to live through. Nightmares that she has continued to live with to this day.
Unfortunately, the murderer didn’t get the punishment he deserved. He didn’t get the death penalty or even a life sentence. The death penalty is available in Tennessee, but the district attorney in Davidson County opposed using it. Despite all the evidence of premeditation and planning, the liberal judge reduced the sentence to second degree murder.
The murderer is still obsessed with Nikki, and she fears his release. He had her lawyer’s address and had been sending her letters before his 2012 trial. Nikki begged the prosecutors and others to stop him, but they didn’t help, so she told her lawyer to stop telling her about the letters.
Then, in October 2019, when she researched her book “,” she reached out to her lawyer and discovered that the murderer had sent many more love letters from prison – including Valentine Day and Christmas Cards.
She also discovered that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) had awarded the murderer three and a half years of early release/good behavior credits even while he continued stalking her from prison.
When Nikki approached TDOC about revoking those credits, we were both told they would do nothing because they didn’t want to upset the “prisoner rights groups.”
We tried a two-pronged strategy. We paid lawyers over $12,000 to help convince prosecutors and police to bring stalking charges. We also spent over $14,000 publicizing her book with the hope that the publicity would help generate prosecutors’ interest and get TDOC to do the right thing.
Hiring lawyers got us nowhere. Being on national news shows also didn’t do the trick. Few people have the contacts or resources we have, but it seemed hopeless despite all our efforts. Finally, a federal prosecutor got involved when a local television news show in Nashville () carried Nikki’s story in July 2020, shortly before the statute of limitations was to expire.
But it has been over three years since she learned of this stalking. A trial scheduled for Nov. 8 is delayed for a fourth time until some still-to-be-determined date in January. Again, these delays take an emotional toll. Nikki must again mentally prepare herself for testifying, reliving her fears and dealing with nightmares in stressful anticipation of trial, only to have the trial delayed again.
Part of the delay has been due to the murderer claiming insanity. His lawyer claims he is too obsessed with her to be responsible for his actions. His defense during the murder trial was that he had delusional disorder and erotomania, the delusional belief that their target of obsession loves them and that there is a relationship.
The murderer has also made threatening comments about what will happen if Nikki finds another person in her life. Understandably, Nikki is extremely fearful about his future release, knowing what he has already proven he is capable of.
It has been thirteen years since Nikki’s stalker murdered her husband. Yet, she still lives with that horror. Trial delays may occasionally help to ensure a fair trial for the criminal, but they always put victims and their families through hell over and over again. With so many people becoming victims of crime these days, we need to realize that the damage to victims often lasts many years after the crime.
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
Nikki Goeser is the executive director for the Crime Prevention Research Center.
John R. Lott Jr. is a contributor to RealClearInvestigations, focusing on voting and gun rights. His articles have appeared in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today, and Chicago Tribune. Lott is an economist who has held research and/or teaching positions at the University of Chicago, Yale University, Stanford, UCLA, Wharton, and Rice.