Anita Cantrell wasn't sure what to expect from the man who murdered her father. But she knew she wanted to meet him.
In 1997, Melvin Battiest arrived as an inmate at a privately-run prison in Cushing where Cantrell worked as a nurse.
Thirteen years earlier, Cantrell's father, Donald Cantrell, died from a tire-iron beating in a robbery Battiest helped plan. Another man, Billy Ray Battenfield, also was convicted of murder.
"I had a lot of bitterness, hatred, resentment," recalled Cantrell. "I mean, their names would be mentioned, and it would just like spew out."
Sitting at a small table across from Battiest, "he started talking," Cantrell recalled. "I didn't even have to say anything after I introduced myself. And so he said what he did and about not intending on it to happen. He just asked me if I'd forgiven him."
After asking about his spiritual and emotional state --Battiest told her he "had given his heart to the Lord," she said -- Cantrell offered her forgiveness.
"From that day on, I've not had the bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness," said Cantrell.
It's a story unique to Cantrell, to be sure. But, now volunteering as an advocate for victims of homicide, she said others in similar circumstances should have support for their needs, whatever they may be.
"A lot of times, they want that moral support," said Cantrell, an associate minister at Greater Cornerstone Church and founder of V.O.I.C.E.S. Victim Services. "You know, they want to be heard."
Federal officials are paying attention, unveiling in May details of an initiative to improve victim services. Through what's known as Vision 21, the Department of Justice wants to improve coordination between agencies offering services and boost research into what works best for victims.
A Vision 21 report noted that "the crime victims' movement is still a fledgling field -- a phenomenon of the past 40 years."
Steve Kunzweiler, chief of the Tulsa County District Attorney's office criminal division, recalled how things have changed since he first became a prosecutor in 1989.
"It was kind of the advent of a recognition of providing victim witness centers in prosecutors' offices, providing victim advocates," Kunzweiler said.
Those programs continue in Tulsa County. To begin with, the office sends out notification letters to many crime victims --whether an arrest has been made or not -- notifying them that victims services are available.
For example, under state law, victims and families can apply for compensation in the case of crimes resulting in "bodily injury, threat of bodily injury or death to a victim."
Last year, the DA's office sent 2,818 letters to Tulsa County crime victims.
If an arrest is made, an advocate in the DA's office reaches out to help victims keep track of court dates.
"We have to help shepherd them through that process, and there's so many different ways that people can handle the stress of being a victim or actually having a loved one who is a victim. We're constantly trying to figure out what the best way to capture all these people's needs, capture all their needs and somehow direct them in a way that will help them," Kunzweiler said.
Of course, not every case involves a quick arrest. Catherine Doak recalled the long years following the 2004 murder of her daughter, Victoria Knight, during a robbery of a check-cashing store.
"It was a cold case, and I went for several years without any contact from anybody," Doak said. "There were no advocates."
She stepped into that void, offering support to other families experiencing a similar loss. In 2009, she joined the Tulsa Police Department's chaplaincy program to help even more victims.
"Sometimes families don't need me. Sometimes they need me desperately," Doak said. She helps coordinate a yearly event honoring the memory of homicide victims; the DA's office has a similar event.
Recently, the DA's office and the Mental Health Association in Tulsa established a support group for families who have lost a loved one through violence. "I've heard some wonderful stories about that," Doak said.
She expressed some doubt about the need for more research into victim services, but the Vision 21 effort is also about taking a fresh look at the entire criminal justice system.
"For those victimized by family members rather than strangers, as well as victims from Indian Country and crime-ridden city neighborhoods, justice is not always about a retributive system," the report states. "These victims brought to the conversation a passion for promoting broader policies of prevention and innovative public safety programs to hold offenders accountable and reduce recidivism while promoting healing for victims."
This tension can perhaps most often be seen in domestic violence cases. Kunzweiler described how it's not uncommon for a victim to try to sway a prosecutor to back off of charges.
"I agree it can't always be about retribution," Kunzweiler said. "But it's really hard to look at somebody who's got raccoon eyes from having their face beaten in, to sit there and say you mean we're not going to put this guy in jail for a period of time?"
Kunzweiler said he explains how the courts can mandate counseling of various kinds to help the offender -- and thus the family.
"That's not retribution, that's solution," he said.
Ultimately, "we always have to look at public safety," he said. "That's, I think, at the forefront of any prosecutor's assessment."
Doak praised domestic violence programs for victims in Tulsa, as well as the DA's victim advocates.
Statewide, she's taken part in a "needs assessment" report on improving victim services, which led to creation of the Oklahoma Victim Assistance Academy. The week-long training program for law enforcement agencies and others helps them learn how to best help victims.
Police eventually found DNA evidence leading to a conviction in her daughter's case, and Doak said she would like to meet the man who killed her daughter. "It's my faith," she said.
After reading about Vision 21, "I'm looking at all this information on the government level, but I'm thinking one-on-one," she said, noting the limited funding for victim services in Tulsa. "I don't think more research is necessary. I think that more advocates are necessary."
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