Victim notification is important

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

In 1999, five years after 18-year-old Amy Frink was violently murdered by John Paul Counts, her family readied to move on, grieve and heal from the horrific ordeal.

Counts, who had been found guilty of beating, stabbing and running Frink over with her own car, had been sentenced to 30 years in prison. John Gamble was also charged for a role in her murder. He remains in prison.

For the remainder of both sentences the Frink family should have felt safe. It should have been a time where they could remember their daughter and sister and know, confidently, justice had been carried out in Amy’s name.

But last week that security was ripped from them when the family found out Counts was scheduled for parole after serving only nine years. And if news of the pending release wasn’t startling enough, the family found out about it after receiving a call from a Beacon reporter.

No one else contacted them about the parole possibility, the family claims. That’s appalling. The general statute requires immediate family members, the district attorney, the sheriff’s office and local media to be notified of the pending parole. The catch? Family members have to make a request to be notified in writing.

Really? In a time of great emotion turmoil a victim is expected to write a request to find out a convict is about to go free? We think whoever the prosecuting attorney worked with during a trial should be automatically notified of any status changes, court dates or appeals.

Being a victim of a crime can leave many questioning the justice system. People often feel alone, confused and afraid about what they have to face. Communication is a vital part in helping victims like the Frink family deal with this tragedy.

No one should have to learn something so personal by getting a call from a reporter or turning on the evening news.

Counts’ parole is part of the state’s Mutual Agreement Parole Program that began in 1975 to help prepare “parole eligible inmates” for release. The parole commission claims it’s a tool used to encourage behavior change and evaluates an offender’s readiness to be released.

In the past year we’ve done several stories on inmates who were eligible for release through MAPP. Each time, we’ve been shocked to see just how little time a person convicted of murder is required to serve in North Carolina.

We think MAPP is a bad program and it’s a big gamble to take with someone who has already been convicted of a horrible crime.

Its only saving grace is it doesn’t apply to crimes committed after Oct. 1, 1994, but that’s no solace for those who had been victimized by crimes prior to that date. Amy was killed on June 23, 1994, only months before the October date.

Where is the justice for that family and others who have seen perpetrators released through MAPP?

We can only hope those who have been given a second chance, like Counts, don’t make the same decisions again.