Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on Thursday introduced the first 20 members of his victims' advisory panel, a group of citizens he said will examine and potentially retool the way his office supports and interacts with victims of crime.
Members include women who survived sexual assault, parents whose children were murdered, and former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. Krasner said: "They are here because they have committed to bring their heads, hearts, and their powerful, life-altering experiences to help us do our job better."
Movita Johnson-Harrell, the office's head of victim services, said the Crime Victims' Advisory Committee would bring together some often-disparate Philadelphia-based victims' rights organizations and activists. The panel will convene once a month, she said, and will aim to ensure that "we stop harming people who have been harmed." Specific areas the panel might examine are still under consideration, Johnson-Harrell said, but could include how victims get court notices, or when and how they are contacted by prosecutors assigned to a case.
The panel's creation was announced in April, around the time that some victims' relatives had criticized Krasner's office, saying they had not been consulted or even contacted about decisions and actions in open cases. In one instance, family members of a murder victim said prosecutors did not notify them before successfully arguing to have a convicted killer removed from death row. In another, relatives of Ryan Kelly, who was shot dead on Thanksgiving 2015 near his mother's Port Richmond home, said prosecutors presented a plea offer to the accused shooter in court without telling them.
Kelly's mother, Cathy, was named to the panel, although she did not attend Thursday's news conference. Another member, Sophie Heng, spoke at the event and recounted surviving a relationship marred by domestic abuse. She said she wants to help ensure that the criminal justice system does not "re-traumatize" those who experience crime.