As a member of HOPE for Victims and board member of the former East Tennessee Victims Rights Task Force, Farragut resident Jeanne Brykalski is part of a group she never wanted to join — but she is compelled to further its mission every chance she gets.
She and her husband, Bry, will join other HOPE members and other supporters starting at 2 p.m., Friday, April 21, in the Family Justice Center Auditorium in downtown Knoxville to kick off National Crime Victims’ Rights week under the leadership of Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen’s office.
Part of the event will include pinning purple ribbons on crime victims and their families, as purple ribbons are a symbol for victims of crime.
Unfortunately, that is just what Jeanne and Bry became after the 1995 murder of her parents, Les and Carol Dotts, who were killed in their Village Green home after interrupting a home-invasion robbery.
The experience thrust the couple into what has become an ongoing fight for justice against the two men and a juvenile later convicted for their crimes.
“Bry and I have spent 28 years now dealing with the criminal justice system with no end in sight,” said Brykalski, who only last year successfully helped fight against parole for one of the convicted killers. “This is not unusual — it is, in fact, normal way too often.”
She first came to know of one such group, the former East Tennessee Victim’s Rights Task Force, through their court-appointed victim’s advocate, Peggy Atchley.
“She encouraged us to attend their meetings,” Brykalski recalled, noting with a laugh, “Truthfully, the only reason I finally went was to get Peggy off my back.
“I froze going into the meeting, and Bry had to shove me forward, but I am very glad we went,” she added.
There, she became friends with Margaret Bare and Jim King, who also served as mentors as the couple began working for victim’s rights as a whole. “There is a saying, ‘The dead cannot speak for themselves,’” Brykalski said. “It is up to us to do it for them, yet for many years we were not allowed to do so.”
However, through the efforts of many, crime victims have seen the tide turn away from being heavily in favor of the perpetrators, Brykalski said.
“Margaret and so many other victims’ rights advocates and grass roots groups are reasons why victims and their families can now attend parole hearings in the state of Tennessee,” she said.
Brykalski also points to the efforts of Mike and Joan Berry, whose daughter, Johnia, was brutally murdered in Knoxville in 2004, and grass root advocacy groups, such as the former East Tennessee Victim’s Rights Task Force, and members of law enforcement, for enacting a DNA-related law.
“Tennessee was among the first states to vote on a DNA law to collect DNA from criminals when arrested for certain violent crimes,” she said. “It can be run through a national data base to see if it matches up against other violent offenders’ DNA.”
A number of bills currently are being considered by state legislators, including “Marsy’s Law,” named after a Marsalee (Marsy) Ann Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend in 1983.
Her family has worked to enact Marsy’s Law nationwide, guaranteeing the same rights for murder victims and their families as are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution for the perpetrators.
“We just want the same rights they have as we seek justice for ourselves and our loved ones,” Brykalski said.
As the NCVR week approaches, she wants others to know “there is no such thing as closure when you are dealing with the criminal justice system,” she said.
“Also, we all need to be paying attention and be aware of what goes on around us,” Brykalski added. “There is no such thing as a safe neighborhood, and to think ‘ignorance is bliss’ is dangerous.”
Brykalski also wants people to know they are not alone.
“With all crime, especially violent crime, climbing steadily all over the county, I wanted to let our community know that there are people out there, — in law enforcement, crime victims’ advocacy and support groups (like HOPE for Victims) and some elected officials — who are standing up for decent law-abiding citizens and our families,” she said.
“Make sure you make your vote count, from local to the federal level,” Brykalski added. “Elections are important. All you have to do is see what is going on now, with the rise of violence and the loss of accountability.
'There are legislators and DAs who refuse to enforce the law or ignore the law all together. We must have elected officials in office who are willing to be tough on crime and criminals, including supposed ‘first offenders.’”
As a result, “Our communities and our families would be a lot safer,” Brykalski said. “What happened to my parents is proof of that, as all three of (the perpetrators) had been in trouble for years. Criminals need to have consequences for their choices and actions and be held accountable and responsible for the pain and suffering they inflict on innocent people.”
Other ways to show support for victims’ right include wearing “a purple ribbon, tie one to your car antenna, your mailbox or doorknob to show and compassion for Victims of Violent Crime,” Brykalski said.
In addition to Friday’s kick-off, other nearby NCVR events will include:
• A Knoxville candlelight service is set to begin at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, April 23, at Knoxville City Police Department, 800 Howard Baker Jr. Ave. Those attending are encouraged to bring a photo of their lost loved ones.
• A purple ribbon pinning will take place at Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in Strawberry Plains starting at 11 a.m., Thursday, April 27.
• A few hours later, at WATE-TV Channel 6 along Broadway, a ribbon pinning for the staff and anchors will take place beginning at 2 p.m.