A prison inmate Friday pointed angrily toward his 18-year-old rape victim, threatening, "You're dead!" after the teenager testified against him in a parole hearing.
Family members of the inmate and of the victim, present in the Utah Board of Pardons room at the prison, began to scream and sob.The rapist, Roger Gordon Bigelow, cursed what he said was the injustice of a corrupt legal system that would keep him in prison five years for his conviction of forcible sexual abuse.
The young woman, who was 17 when the assault occurred, told board members: "I don't think he (Bigelow) should get out. He's made my life hell. He's getting off too easy with five years."
The victim further expressed her frustration and hurt over a justice system that failed to inform her that the man who raped her, originally charged with kidnapping and rape, was allowed to plea bargain to a lesser offense.
The explosive situation illustrates the intense friction between victims and perpetrators - and the extended, more complex friction between the rights of victims and defendants.
In response to recent legislation that established a bill of rights for victims, Presiding 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels has established a committee that will serve as an ombudsman to victims - a place to go when victims have complaints or questions about the treatment received in Utah's justice system.
"The rights of victims have been ignored too long in our state. Utah is one of the last to establish a Victims' Bill of Rights," the judge told the Deseret News on Saturday.
"A defendant has the Constitution behind him, protecting his rights. But the emphasis of criminal law has swung too far toward the accused at the expense of victim rights."
Daniels has appointed attorney W. Paul Thompson as chairman of the committee. Thompson, former mayor of Sandy, now is special counsel to South Salt Lake.
The Victims' Rights Committee, Daniels said, is composed of leaders in the community who are sensitive to the needs of victims. They include Salt Lake County Sheriff N.D. Hayward; Salt Lake County Attorney David E. Yocom; South South Lake Chief of Police Val W. Bess; Barbara Thompson, director of the Salt Lake County Child Abuse Coordinating Committee; Summit County Attorney Robert Adkins; and Paul Morris, West Valley City attorney.
One of the rights outlined in the new law says victims should have a secure waiting area that does not require them to be in close proximity to defendants or their families. Agencies should, whenever possible, provide this area.
Victims, such as the 18-year-old who appeared before the Board of Pardons on Friday, are not required to attend the parole hearing.
But confrontation between a rape victim and her rapist's family is difficult to avoid in the halls of most Utah courthouses during a criminal trial, W. Paul Thompson said.
"The Utah legal system is more sensitive to the trauma of a person victimized having to face the friends and family of the accused," he said.
"Providing a separate waiting area is one of the rights suggested by the Legislature that is currently being denied, for the most part. Courthouses have not been built to accommodate separation of victim and attacker."
The ombudsman committee will hear testimony from victims and determine costs of providing separate waiting rooms in determining how to correct the problem, the chairman said.
The committee will review the agencies that receive money to assist victims to assess if these organizations are honoring the Victims' Bill of Rights.
"If victims' needs are not being met because of a lack of funding, then it's up to this ombudsman committee to let legislators know what the problems and deficiencies are," Thompson said.
Keeping the victim informed "with clear explanations regarding relevant legal proceeding" is a victim's right under the new guidelines, he said.
Other important rights of victims - and witnesses - protected by the new Legislation include the rights to:
-Restitution or reparations, including medical costs.
-Employer cooperation in minimizing employees' loss of pay resulting from participating in the justice process.
-Speedy disposition of entire criminal-justice process.
-Timely notice of judicial proceedings they are to attend.
If victims are not being treated according to their rights, they should contact the Victims' Rights Committee by writing Daniels at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice, 240 E. Fourth South, Salt Lake City, UT 84111.