Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday signed a bill inspired by a Wichita mother and written by a Wichita senator to toughen the rules for notifying crime victims and their families when prison officials plan to release the person who committed a crime against them.
Senate Bill 248, by Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, requires the Department of Corrections to provide the victims and families with 14 working days’ notice before the release.
“To notify those victims in a timely manner, it’s the least we can do dealing with a situation like that,” said Faust-Goudeau.
The original bill said the department would have to provide such notice “when feasible,” but the final version has only three narrow exceptions: when the inmate escapes, dies or is released in response to a court order.
“Protecting the rights of citizens is one of the government’s core functions,” Brownback said in a statement after signing the bill. “This law goes a long way to protect the rights of crime victims.”
The bill spun off the case of Wichita schoolteacher Avis Crosby, who got only one working day to protest when the state decided to move the drunken driver who killed her son and a cousin out of the Winfield Correctional Facility and into a work-release program in Hutchinson.
Crosby was coincidentally at the Capitol with a school field trip on Tuesday but didn’t know Brownback was signing the bill, Faust-Goudeau said.
She said she hopes to arrange a ceremonial signing in Wichita for Crosby to attend.
After learning the governor had signed the bill, Crosby said: “I’m pleased as punch, very, very pleased. I’m just sad I missed it is the only thing.”
The bill’s official title is “Adrian Olajuwon Crosby and Dominique Nathaniel Tyree Green’s Law,” in honor of Crosby’s son and cousin.
“I think Adrian and Dominique will be remembered and honored in this way,” Crosby said. “At least Adrian and Dominique didn’t die in vain.”
Since the death of her son and cousin, Crosby has told her family’s story about once a month at counseling classes that DUI offenders are required to attend as part of their sentences.
Adrian Crosby and Green, both 21, were killed in a crash on K-96 by former Sterling College football player Robert Silhan, who was driving on the wrong side of the road with more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.
Corrections officials have said they did not consider moving Silhan to the work-release program to actually be a release, because he remains in custody at night and under supervision by correctional workers or his employer during the day. Standard procedure is to notify victims and their families of release twice, at nine months and one month in advance, officials said.
Crosby said she got notice that Silhan was being sent to work release on the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend. The move was scheduled for the following Tuesday, leaving her only one business day to try to question it.
She contacted Faust-Goudeau and they were able to get a short delay and assurances that Silhan would go to work release in Hutchinson rather than Wichita, where Crosby had feared she could encounter him in her daily life.
Her son and cousin were killed while driving home with their girlfriends from a birthday celebration in Hutchinson.
Crosby, who would have turned 22 the day after he died, was home on leave from the Navy. Green was on a break from college, where he was studying criminal justice.
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.
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, according to state records.