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Nov 14: Victims and the criminal justice system; Christmas economy

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In this Sunday Edition, KSL's Bruce Lindsay explores the emotional roller coaster victims go through in the criminal justice system with victim advocates. Also, a retailer, an economist and a church pastor discuss holiday giving.

Segment 1: Victims and the criminal justice system

Elizabeth Smart took the witness stand to testify against the man who kidnapped and abused her. Every day victims are confronting defendants in courtrooms.

Tammie Garcia-Atkin helps prepare victims for trial as a victim witness coordinator for the Utah Office of the Attorney General.

"It's very difficult for them to get ready for it, especially if it's a violent crime. Part of the problem is when they don't know when the trial is going to be," explains Garcia-Atkin. "It's almost like they have to put armor on in order to go and face all of that and answer all those questions."

It is better when the trial is behind them but the anticipation is very difficult.

(Victims) maybe have spent seven years trying to forget what happened to them. Now they have to come back and remember everything that happened to them. That has to be very, very difficult.

–Tammie Garcia-Atkin

"They don't know what to expect. They don't know what kind of questions they're going to be asked. They don't know what they are going to go through. And again, they maybe have spent seven years trying to forget what happened to them. Now they have to come back and remember everything that happened to them," she says. "That has to be very, very difficult."

In her experience, it is very empowering for victims to get the trial behind them.

"Often times the defendant becomes much bigger in their mind and much more powerful than he really is. As in the Elizabeth Smart case, he came and took her out of her home. He was all powerful to her, he could do anything he wanted. And so then for her to see him or any victim to see the defendant come in chains and shackles and handcuffs is, I think, very empowering for them," describes Garcia-Atkin.

Yvette Rodier agrees. Rodier is an attorney and a victims advocate. She was a victim herself. Fourteen years ago, she was injured and her friend, Zach Snarr, was killed when a man approached and shot them at Little Dell as they were taking pictures of the moon.

Rodier will not say the killer's name.

"I feel like giving him that power and having his name out in the public is something he doesn't quite deserve from me," she says. "I'm not angry, I'm not bitter, a name is really personal and private. That's my one little thing that I keep."

Testifying was liberating for Rodier.

"Testifying actually on the stand was really freeing because it was the first time I got to tell everything. Luckily for me it was within a short period of time after the crime, so I didn't have to wait years or anything. But to actually testify on the stand and tell the truth about what happened and have it out there felt really good for me," explains Rodier. "To testify I was hoping to tell my story, have everyone know what happened, have everyone know how wonderful Zach was, and how much pain it was to miss Zach, and then that something needs to happen from this. I knew my control. I didn't have control over that moment or that time, but to simply be able to tell my story was really quite good for me."

I didn't have control over that moment or that time, but to simply be able to tell my story was really quite good for me.

–Yvette Rodier

She says that in our criminal justice system there is no way to have the trial and crime completely behind you.

University of Utah law professor and former federal court judge, Paul Cassell has played a major role in getting rights for crime victims.

"The victims have certain rights, for example the right to speak at sentencing, the right to speak at bail hearings," explains Cassell.

He says there is still a problem of enforcing the rights -- sometimes judges are not enforcing the rights and sometimes defense attorneys trample on the rights of victims.

Cassell says, "We really don't have a good system for providing legal counsel for crime victims."

The criminal justice system is intended to bring justice to the accused, the wronged and society as a whole.

"When we have a trial we are trying to make absolutely sure that the defendant is guilty of the crime that's being charged, but at the same time we want to have that trial and the other proceedings move forward in a way that's fair to victims. But sometimes victims may have a point of view that is different than society's point of view and that's why we have prosecutors that represent the state," explains Cassell. "So we have kind of a three-legged stool with three different interests all involved."

Segment 2: Christmas economy

With over a week until Thanksgiving, stores are ready for the holiday season. In some places across the country Santa Claus is already taking requests in the mall and local radio stations have begun playing Christmas music. Barry Arnold, manager of the Macy's Department Store in Cottonwood, Zions Bank economist Jeff Thredgold and Pastor Travis Mitchell from the Sandy Ridge Community Church discuss the economics and commercialization of Christmas.

At Macy's the timing of holiday merchandise has not changed since last year, but retailers in general may be moving up the Christmas shopping season. Arnold believes there is pressure from customers to start the holiday shopping season earlier.

Christmas retailing is always a big deal. Most retailers suggest that as much as a fourth of their overall sales in an entire year are tied to the holiday season.

–Jeff Thredgold

"When I am out on the floor working with customers... or walking with them out to their car, they will say 'I'm glad I got this finished for my brother-in-law,'" says Arnold. "They are buying for Christmas earlier."

Arnold says a few people have complained about hearing Christmas music in the store.

"But as they say that they are buying Christmas gifts for their family members and our 'Trim the Home' departments do very, very well in October. A lot of people love Christmas. I'm one of those guys that love Christmas, and I love the Christmas spirit and a lot of people do and so a lot of people like to get an early start on Christmas gift buying," Arnold describes.

The holidays make up a big part of retail sales.

"Christmas retailing is always a big deal," explains Thredgold. "Most retailers suggest that as much as a fourth of their overall sales in an entire year are tied to the holiday season."

And this year should be the best in the last three years for the economy. Thredgold says, "Most estimates have Christmas retailing this year up about three percent versus last year, substantially better than two years ago... but not as good as four or five years ago."

If everyone quit buying gifts for the holidays the economy would see serious effects.

"We would take a hit in the economy in November and December," Thredgold says. "You would have tens of thousands fewer retail employees, you would have less state and local tax collections, you would have a hit in terms of the overall economy, offset by people's ability to then save more money."

At the Sandy Ridge Community Church Mitchell is presenting a four-week series of sermons on the true meaning of Christmas and warning people about focusing on buying gifts.

"In every culture there are always things and powerful kingdoms that stand in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God, things that threaten one's faithfulness and passion," Mitchell says. "I would say consumerism is one of those things."

Viewer response

Nancy Fidler:Recently, I was in a large department store looking for something to decorate my home with for Thanksgiving. There were isles of Christmas decorations, but I found nothing that said Thanksgiving. The closest were a few fall-type pumpkins and leaves, etc. It seems we go straight from Halloween (a gimme day) to Christmas (a gimme day). What has happened to gratitude? I don't mean to say don't put out Christmas decorations or start shopping until December, but let's not eliminate Thanksgiving in the process.

Lacey:I don't think the spirit of the holidays is to buy everyone something, but rather to give what you can, where you can to help make your family, friends and community better. Instead of lots of gifts I would encourage everyone to donate their time to an organization of their choice in the name of someone. I myself plan on spending lots of time at a horse rescue, bringing love to a lot of horses who haven't had any. I think if more people spent time instead of money on the holidays they would feel better and more whole. And their community would be a better place for all.

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