Swept Away

State officials want to use $2 million meant for crime victims to help balance the budget

Lori Artery's life was shattered the night of Oct. 25, 2000, when her 16-year-old daughter, Rebecca Ramsay, died on her doorstep after she was shot walking from her car to her front porch.

Artery heard Ramsay pull up in the driveway and was walking to her front door when she heard the gunshot. A nursing student, she attempted to perform CPR until an ambulance arrived, to no avail.

The months that followed remain a blur in Artery's mind. She couldn't stand staying in her home, so she moved in with her parents. Her sleep was wracked by nightmares. She could barely walk from her car to her parents' house unless her dad escorted her. Being in crowds was paralyzing.

"You just feel like there's something behind you," says Artery, who spent years in counseling before she could overcome her anxiety.

It wasn't until last month--more than seven years after Ramsay was killed--that a jury finally found Louie Machado guilty of second-degree murder in Ramsay's killing.

"When they get that verdict, you're not done," Artery says. "It gets worse."

Artery is once again reliving the pain of losing her daughter as she assembles a package of statements from people who knew Ramsay for Pima County Superior Court Judge Frank Dawley to consider when he sentences Machado later this month. Artery says she wouldn't have gotten through the entire agonizing ordeal if it hadn't been for Gail Leland of Homicide Survivors.

"Gail has been right here next to me the entire time," Artery says. "That woman is incredible."

Leland helped Artery deal with everything from funeral expenses to media interviews.

"Homicide Survivors never says, 'We're done with you,'" Artery says. "Unless you've been touched by that in some way, you don't know what people go through."

Leland has been there herself. She launched Homicide Survivors in the wake of the murder of her son, Richard, who was 14 years old when he vanished in 1981.

Several months later, his remains were discovered in a desert gully after a storm. The case remains unsolved.

Leland has spent the years since helping other people get over the loss of a loved one. Homicide Survivors, a nonprofit organization, helps families of murder victims with funeral expenses, counseling and other matters.

"(Some) people don't have life insurance or resources that could help them immediately to come up with thousands of dollars for funeral costs," Leland says. "Maybe the person who was killed was the breadwinner of the family, and there's not going to be a paycheck coming in on Friday, so how do they pay their rent? How do they get food?"

Homicide Survivors, with a full-time staff of three people and a large pool of volunteers, gets by on a shoestring budget. A tiny office is donated by the Pima County Attorney's Office, and Leland has become skilled in getting discounts from hotels, restaurants and cemeteries. Excluding those in-kind contributions, the organization has an annual budget of about $130,000, which comes from grants, according to Leland.

But Homicide Survivors and other nonprofits that aid crime victims--such as the Brewster Center Domestic Violence Services, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault and Wingspan--are chasing after shrinking federal dollars. Leland says that this year, she got $110,000 from a federal grant, but she's been told that she can't expect more than $99,000 for the upcoming budget year.

On top of the drop in federal dollars, Leland is upset by a plan by Gov. Janet Napolitano and legislative leaders to "sweep" $2 million from the Victim Compensation and Assistance Fund.

The fund provides cash grants to victims of crime to help them cover anything from rent to funeral expenses. It also offers grants to agencies that help victims of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Victim Compensation and Assistance Fund, which is generated by criminal fines and fees, started the year with about $5 million, thanks to a one-time boost from Attorney General Terry Goddard in the wake of a big-dollar fraud case, says Tony Vidale, a manager with the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. Normally, the fund--which is expected to pay out $2.8 million in compensation claims directly to crime victims, and $1.3 million in grants to agencies such as Homicide Survivors this year--has a balance of about $1.2 million in the bank.

But to cover the current budget shortfall, state officials want to take $2 million from the fund--part of a larger plan to draw money from various state accounts that have positive balances.

Vidale says the agency hoped to use the $2 million to expand its grant program to compensate for declining federal dollars. He worries that the state may try to skim even more as the budget woes worsen.

"That could devastate the program," he says.

Leland is due in Phoenix next Monday to accept the Triumph Over Tragedy Award from Napolitano to kick off National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

She's honored to have been selected to receive the award, but part of her wants to tell Napolitano to forget about the award and just keep her hands off the Victims Compensation and Assistance Fund.

"It's unjust," Leland says. "This is Victims' Rights Week. I'm really pleading with people in positions of power to recognize that and honor that and not do this injustice to victims of crime."

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