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Crime Story 

The anatomy of a simple crime ... isn't simple at all in New Orleans.

No crime is ever simple, but to show respect for the victims of the recent crime wave in New Orleans, I describe my experience with the criminal justice system as simple. Or so it should have been.

On April 10, 2002, a beautiful spring evening provided the backdrop for an aggravated battery and unauthorized entry into our home. That night, two men attempted to sell us our own house key -- after it had been stolen earlier than evening. Upon learning that my husband was unwilling to pay $100 for the stolen key, one of the men attempted to enter our house. The result was a badly bruised and beaten husband, one traumatized son (who witnessed the event and now has a lifelong memory of watching his father being beaten) and me, a wife and mother of three, plagued with recurrent nightmares of the event and what could have been.

The man who beat up my husband was caught within minutes; his accomplice was never found.

One month later, on May 15, 2002, my husband and I met with a screener in the DA's office to tell our story. More than three years later -- on Aug. 15, 2005 -- my husband, a neighbor who witnessed the crime and I went to court for a motion hearing. Finally, we thought, we were getting this case resolved. It had been three years. I took the stand, gave my testimony (as did my husband) and that was that.

Then Katrina hit.

Four years after the crime (June 2006), we receive another subpoena to go to court. At long last, the case was going to trial. Or so we thought.

Days before the scheduled trial date, we received word that the trial was going to be postponed because the perpetrator had not had time to visit with his attorney. I guess four years is not enough time to meet with your attorney.

In August 2006, we were contacted by the DA's office again and told that there was a "problem" with our case. The problem was that the officer who took the perpetrator's statement was no longer with NOPD. "So what's the problem?" I asked. "You have two victims and a witness." The prosecutors decided to proceed.

Finally, on Aug. 16, 2006, the case went to trial -- more than 52 months after the horrific event. Present were the jurors, two prosecutors, one defense attorney, my husband, our witness, the perpetrator and me. The trial lasted one hour, and the jury came back with its verdict -- guilty!

Upon leaving the courthouse, a juror asked me, "What took so long? As we saw it, this was a simple crime. Open and shut case."

"Yes it would appear that way," I answered. "Imagine what a complicated crime looks like!"

"Good for you all sticking with it," he said. "The city has one less person to fear on the streets."

I thanked him for his time and for his decision.

We often hear how perpetrators of crime are caught but then set free because victims and witnesses are too afraid to come forward. As a victim, I understand. The fear that I felt for months after the crime never left me. But, it was my civic duty to do my part to ensure that this perpetrator would not hurt anyone else.

We were among the lucky ones. We lived to tell our tale and to be a part of fighting back.ÊIf we had not come forward, the perpetrator might have believed that he could commit more crimes without fear of consequences.

I believe we have an awesome force of police officers who put their lives on the line daily to catch criminals. But catching them is only half the equation. We victims, along with the judicial system, are the other half. Is it right to expect cops to do their jobs if we don't do ours?

Today, young NOPD Officer Andres Gonzalez, who dedicated his life to protecting the citizens of this city, struggles to learn to live his life while paralyzed. His life changed forever when he was shot in the neck by a man who had been arrested several times but was always freed soon thereafter -- because victims and witnesses of his prior crimes would not come forward, and because the criminal justice system did not do whatever was necessary to keep him behind bars.

A crime story does not end when the perpetrator is arrested. In fact, that's only the beginning. The end comes when the victim and the criminal justice system help bring a fitting consequence to the criminal for his acts. None of this can begin to happen without victims and witnesses coming forward -- and keeping pressure on those who work the system.

The perpetrator in our case was found guilty of a "simple crime." He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 26, and we are told that prosecutors will ask for a sentence of 60 years because of his prior convictions. Sadly, his journey into the criminal justice system began as a young boy with arrests for curfew violations, escalating to robbery.

During the more than four years that we waited for "justice," we could have washed our hands of this, walked away, let it go -- but then we would have been left with the feeling that the blood of his next victim would have been on our hands. We could not bear that burden. Whatever the outcome, we felt compelled to play our part in the process.

Being a victim of any crime is a horrific experience. In our case, despite the arduous process of getting our attacker to trial, the payoff was huge. I cried when the verdict was read. I cried in relief that our tenacity paid off, that justice had been served, and we found enormous satisfaction in knowing that, for the past four years, we prevented others from being a victim of this man's behavior. Whatever his sentence may be, I am satisfied that we did our part -- and I'm grateful for the police who did theirs.

If we want to rid our streets of crime, we all must work together to get criminals out of the neighborhoods we are working endlessly to restore. If you witness a crime, know of a crime, become part of a crime -- no matter how "simple" it may be -- it is your duty to come forward and tell your tale. If you don't, we have no chance.

Crime is not simple, but our choice is so simple that it's stark: We can stand up and fight back, or we can live our days continuing to witness horrific events in which lives are taken, families are destroyed and a city trying to recover is shrouded in violence, despair and heartache.

The choice is ours.

Cecile Tebo, LCSW, is a crisis unit coordinator with the New Orleans Police Department. After Katrina, she worked in several volunteer organizations, including Women of the Storm. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, Balad Tebo, and their three sons.

click to enlarge A crime story does not end when the perpetrator is - arrested. In fact, that's only the beginning. The end comes - when the victim and the criminal justice system help bring a - fitting consequence to the criminal for his acts. - TRACIE MORRIS SCHAEFER
  • Tracie Morris Schaefer
  • A crime story does not end when the perpetrator is arrested. In fact, that's only the beginning. The end comes when the victim and the criminal justice system help bring a fitting consequence to the criminal for his acts.
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