Heavy case load also keeps Victim Witness staff busy

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, April 17, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

As Isle of Wight investigators and prosecutors struggle with collecting evidence and securing witnesses for the six pending murder trials, there’s another local agency that also shares the workload. 

The Isle of Wight County Victim Witness Program, located in the Young-Laine Courts Building, works with the victims and witnesses of the various cases, and its goal is to treat them with dignity and respect.

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Isle of Wight County Victim Witness Program Director Leah Hampton- Bilal said she has been actively working with the families of those slain recently, as well as those cases that occurred a few years ago but are still going through the justice system. 

“I wear my counseling hat. I empathize with them,” said Bilal about working with the families. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Bilal said that sometimes the length of time it takes to reach a conviction can take longer than most people realize.

“It’s definitely hard. We try to keep people on board,” she said, adding that for many victims and their families, the time right after a crime is a fog. 

“You definitely see the range of emotions,” said Bilal.  

Bilal often refers her clients to a book by a fellow victim, Bill Jenkins, who wrote, “What To Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss.” 

Jenkins’ 16-year old son was murdered while working at a restaurant. 

For those working in her office, the job has its own special challenges.

“That’s the taxing part. You absorb other people’s pain,” said Bilal, who added that she often travels to the homes of family members and some phone numbers are committed to memory. 

“We try to meet people where it’s most convenient,” she said. 

The grant-funded Victim Witness office also helps clients with legal terminology and how the process works, as well as providing tips on testifying.  

The office can also provide referrals to other agencies, such as Social Services, provide letters to employers or schools concerning court appearances, a crime victims fund and other services. 

In a brochure available at the office, Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips explains that the Victim Witness program is an effort to ensure victims and witnesses that their rights are protected as much as those as the defendants. 

The Victim Witness Program employs a full-time director, as well as a part-time domestic violence and sexual assault coordinator. 

As Isle of Wight County continues to grow, the program plans to expand to offer community outreach to victims and provide local school-age children information on bullying, cyber-bullying and teen domestic violence. 

For more information on the Victim Witness Program, call 357-7403.  {/mprestriction}