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July 6, 2014

Prosecutors review services for crime victims

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Sharon Roberts drove nearly 11 hours to Oklahoma from her home near Nashville, Tenn., she carefully composed the words she wanted her brother’s killer to remember.

Roberts confronted a sobbing Mary Courtney York in May with a 21-page statement detailing the pain inflicted upon her family by the escort and her companion, Christopher Cody King.

York and King shot Roberts’ brother, Patrick Burton, 51, during a robbery in February 2013. The couple, ages 19 and 24 at the time, then set fire to his home in Norman – with his body inside – killing his beloved dog and leaving his mother homeless.

“It’s a very hard thing to do,” Roberts said of the victim impact statement. “… It’s like reliving that nightmare over and over again.”

Roberts, her mother and their family were guided through the criminal proceedings against York and King by Cleveland County victim’s advocacy program, part of the district attorney’s office. Such programs, which are required by law, have been in place for more than three decades to connect victims and their families to prosecutors.

But Roberts said she was frustrated by the system. She had trouble getting calls to prosecutors returned, she said, and found the court system complex. She said it was difficult to get enough notice to attend hearings in the case; she lives more than 700 miles away and wanted to be at every one.

Roberts said she felt ignored as prosecutors negotiated a plea deal with York, which amounted to less than 20 years in prison. King was convicted of murder, arson and larceny last year.

“It’s very, very aggravating. The whole system was,” she said.

Complains like Roberts’ are reverberating throughout the court system, as critics say the state has fallen down in its legal obligation to victims.

‘Dearth of Consequences’    

In May, just as Roberts and her family saw the second of Burton’s two murderers sentenced, Oklahoma’s Multicounty Grand Jury issued a report that complained of a “dearth of consequences” for prosecutors who don’t ensure victims’ protections that are codified in law and guaranteed by the state Constitution.

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