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April 10, 2014

Victims’ Rights Week observed

VALDOSTA — Victims of crime gathered Wednesday to observe Victims’ Rights Week and received encouraging words from the father of a murdered Valdosta State University student.

The National Office for Victims of Crime observes National Crime Victims’ Rights Week April 6 through April 12 to “promoting victims’ rights” and honor “crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf.” Locally, the week was observed with a Victims’ Rights Ceremony at the Valdosta City Hall Annex, an event coordinated by victim services coordinator Carla D. Williams.

The ceremony celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act that was signed into law in 1984 and secured “legal rights, protections, and services for victims of crime.”

“We must always remain ever vigilant of the rights of the victims and make sure that complacency and apathy never replace passion,” said Chief Deputy Joe Crow with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.

Several members of local law enforcement agencies attended the event, including Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress who said that good police work is about bringing closure to victims’ families.

“The end game is catching and arresting the offender and giving victims the best possible closing to these cases,” said Childress. “The best thing you can do in these cases is to be able to go back and tell them that we caught the person who did it.”

Before Tracy Chapman, senior assistant district attorney, introduced the ceremony's guest speaker, she spoke about the recent conviction of the man accused of killing Jasmine Benjamin, a Valdosta State University student who was found dead on campus in 2012.

“In that case, I got to meet a monster,” said Chapman. “On the other hand, I got to meet two beautiful people, her parents, James and Judy Jackson.”

James Jackson was invited as the event’s guest speaker and addressed a room full of people who, like himself, have had to cope with the aftermath of a homicide.

“I look out there at the families, and I know you’ve been through a whole lot. I thought the hardest part of it was the crime itself, but it wasn’t,” said Jackson. “It’s after when you have to piece your life back together.”

Jackson said that it was important for families to work together to get through the emotional issues that can plague victims.

“It’s a process. When we were going to the trial, we knew he was going to be found guilty, so we thought after that it was going to be fine,” said Jackson. “It wasn’t fine because there are still small things that always remind me of her.”

During the ceremony, Chief ADA Brad Shealy presented the 2014 Lynn Futch Blocker Award to Agent Mike Callahan with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for his investigative work on the Jasmine Benjamin case.

“What (ADA Tracy Chapman) was able to tell you about what happened was because of the work of this agent. Through the hard work of this officer, going through hundreds of phone and text messages and hours of video, going through garbage and storms drains looking for evidence, they were able to make the case in court that there was no doubt of guilt,” said Shealy.

Callahan became emotional as he accepted the award.

“I’m humbled and appreciative for the recognition,” said Callahan. “I consider myself a very small part of a big wheel. A lot of people worked very hard on that case, and they deserve credit.”

District Attorney David J. Miller presented the Commitment to Justice Award to senior ADA Tracy Chapman. Chapman has prosecuted crime against women for the past 12 years in the Southern Judicial Circuit and successfully prosecuted Darien Joseph Mehuex in January for the murder of Jasmine Benjamin.

During the ceremony, family members of victims lit candles in memory of their lost loved ones and were left with a final word of encouragement from James Jackson.

“Family sticks together when times get hard, so what I say to you is don’t turn your back on each other,” said Jackson. “Try to change the people around you. We can make a difference. There are a lot of monsters out there, but there are a lot of good people out there, too.”

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