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Bill to look at timely notification for crime victims, families in Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, at 8:58 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, at 11:53 a.m.

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When the state decided to let the man who killed her son out of prison and into a work release program, Avis Crosby had only one business day to protest the move.

“I (got) this letter the Thursday before Labor Day (saying that) he was supposed to be released the day after Labor Day,” said Crosby, a Wichita schoolteacher. “That just really wasn’t enough time to do anything. I started calling the number that was listed, and people were gone, out of town for the holiday weekend, so I was just really frustrated.”

Crosby contacted her state senator, who was able to reach some top corrections officials. The man convicted of killing her son and a cousin while driving drunk was moved from the Winfield Correctional Facility to work release about two weeks later, but he was sent to Hutchinson rather than Wichita, where Crosby had feared she might encounter the man in her daily life.

“He’s out a whole year early at work release in Hutchinson, and I just felt like if we had more time before that decision was made, maybe something would have been able to be done about that,” she said.

Although Crosby failed to keep the man in prison, her efforts likely will lead to a state law requiring corrections officials to give more timely notice to victims and their families before an offender who harmed them is released from state custody or moved to work release.

State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, has pre-filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session to require that whenever possible, victims find out at least 14 days before an offender’s release. The legislative session begins in January.

A notice like the one Crosby got “is not giving enough time to appeal or do or say anything,” Faust-Goudeau said.

She said she worked with the Corrections Department in crafting the bill, and department officials will testify in favor of it when it comes up for hearing at the Capitol – a huge boost to its chances of passage.

Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay confirmed that the department worked with Faust-Goudeau on the bill to try to protect the rights of crime victims while not unduly burdening the prison system.

“We think we have that bill,” he said.

Crosby said she’ll also go to Topeka to testify. She already tells her family’s story about once a month at classes that DUI offenders are required to attend as part of their sentences.

Crosby’s son Adrian and a cousin, Dominique Green, were 21 when they were killed.

Adrian Crosby was home on leave from the Navy, and Green was on a break from college, where he was studying criminal justice.

They had gone to Hutchinson with their girlfriends for an early celebration of Adrian Crosby’s birthday; he would have turned 22 the day after they died.

They were coming home on K-96 when Robert Silhan, a former Sterling College football player, slammed into them head-on while driving the wrong way on the freeway.

Silhan was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.17, about twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to court records.

Silhan, then 25, pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter. He also was convicted of two counts of reckless aggravated battery related to the girlfriends, both of whom were seriously injured but survived the crash.

He submitted 32 letters of reference asking for a light sentence. Silhan’s coach, a teammate, his pastor and an alcohol counselor testified on his behalf at the hearing, according to court records.

The judge declined to depart from the presumptive sentence for the crimes, and Silhan was sentenced to 82 months in prison.

In two separate appeals, he was unable to persuade a court to reduce his sentence or to allow him to revoke his guilty plea and confession. His earliest possible release date is Aug. 4, 2014, according to state records.

Audrey Cress, director of victim services for the Department of Corrections, said victims who register for notification ordinarily receive two notices before an offender is released, one nine months in advance and another a month before.

Sometimes, however, her unit doesn’t get timely notice if something changes, such as a reduction in sentence, she said.

Cress was contacted while on vacation Monday and said that without being able to consult the records, she couldn’t recall exactly why Crosby had gotten her notice so late.

But she said that her office has been working to have more checks in place to keep crime victims informed when changes occur.

“We absolutely do try the best we can to get people notified,” she said.

Barclay said Crosby’s case was “kind of an anomaly.”

“But sometimes the anomalies point out something that you want to do for the future,” he added.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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