Justice Bills Carry Victims’ Burial Expenses
By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- The families of murder victims would no longer be disqualified from receiving state burial assistance merely because of their loved ones’ criminal actions under legislation that passed the House and Senate as part of an omnibus criminal justice bill.
“All victims have a right to be laid to rest with dignity,” Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry said at an event Monday to mark Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20.
The holidays can be a particularly trying time for family dealing with the loss of a loved one, survivors said Monday.
“Traditions are hard when you’ve lost family members,” said Liam Lowney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Victims Assistance.
Lowney’s sister Shannon was murdered in 1994 while working at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline.
In 2000 the late Gov. Paul Cellucci signed a law to annually designate a month to commemorate the victims of homicide and their families.
Isaura Mendes, who was involved in the passage of a law, said she prayed to God for strength to carry a memorial display from the train at Upham’s Corner to the Statehouse.
Two of Mendes’s sons were murdered and she has also lost nephews to gun violence. She said it was important for the memorial to be at the Statehouse for Monday’s event.
“I constantly talk about my children because I believe they should have been here,” said Mendes.
A Christian, Mendes said she often calls upon God for strength and visits other families in their hour of mourning.
“My life is visit the family and watch them bury their children,” Mendes told the News Service. She said, “It’s hard for me every time but God gave me strength.”
The House and Senate this fall passed criminal justice bills (H 4011/S 2200), and differences between the two bills will be worked out in a conference committee. The bills aim to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes and give people more opportunities to clear their criminal records.
The two bills are aligned in opening up state burial funds to more homicide victims. The House and Senate adopted similar amendments sponsored by Forry and Rep. Evandro Carvalho, both Dorchester Democrats, to accomplish that.
Under current law, the state cannot compensate the family of victims if they are deemed an offender or accomplice in the crime associated with the award, and in cases where a victim’s “acts or conduct provoked or contributed to the injuries, the (Division of Victim Compensation and Assistance in the attorney general’s office) shall reduce or deny an award to the claimant.”
Under Forry’s amendment the division would have discretion over whether to reduce or deny an award. The amendment also says, “In the event of a victim’s death by homicide, said award may be reduced except the costs for appropriate and modest funeral, burial, and/or cremation services.”
Carvalho said attending funerals is the most difficult aspect of his job as a state rep.
“I feel like every summer it happens, too often,” Carvalho said. He said, “Folks will have a better chance of getting funds to bury their children with dignity.”