Lee Bertha Pickett-Allen
Lee Bertha Pickett-Allen was a founding member of the precursor organization to the Justice for Homicide Victims (JHV) organization, along with Marsy Nicholas' mother, Marcella Leach, and others. Lee Bertha also worked with Doris Tate, of the Doris Tate Bureau, alongside JHV in its program of going into jails and talking to prisoners about how their actions impact society. Lee Bertha is a retired social worker, working with at-risk populations.
Can you describe what it was like for you as a family survivor of a crime victim in the California court system?
In 1984, my son, Earnest Pickett Jr., an honor roll student and varsity baseball player, was tragically killed by a gang member who was targeting someone else. I did not know what to do at all, I had no information about what would happen next. Two weeks after Ernie's murder, a student called to ask why we were not at the initial hearing - we had to tell him we had not been informed. I found the Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) group and it happened to be at Doris Tate's home and Marcella (Marsy's mother) was there. She and I talked all night. I had to get information about the next steps as I knew nothing about going into the court system.
What did you find to be the most frustrating aspect?
Back in 1984, a witness could not go into the courtroom until called and then they had to leave after their testimony. You could not bring in any visible mementos of your loved ones and if you showed any shred of emotion you had to leave the courtroom. You had no rights in court, you were an uninvited guest and one that could be shut out. You could not protest as it could damage your case, you could only talk to other victims in meetings such as POMC's events. Now you too were a victim - not only of your loved one's offender but the court system as well. We only had our Deputy District Attorney to help us get any information about the case. I liked my Deputy District Attorney very much but, in essence, she worked for the state; not for me and not for Ernie because he was dead. If she did not like me, how would I get a callback and get information? It took 14.5 years to bring Ernie's killer to justice and he was sentenced to 32 years to life. He came up for parole after serving only 1/3rd of his sentence.
I joined with Marcella and Bob Leach in forming the precursor organization to Justice for Homicide Victims and worked with them, Ellen Griffin Dunne, Arnold & Evelyn Heilemann, Jack & Genelle Reilley, LaWanda Hawkins, and Jane & Bill Bouffard, along with so many wonderful people. We would do everything we could to change the system. We were inspired to see Dr. Nicholas on TV with newscasters correcting them about their views on crime victims' rights and coming to our meetings, while still building his company and flying all over the world but always supporting his parents and victims. As with every victim who touched Marcella and Bob's life, as they could, they came every day to court to sit with me and help me through my time of intense injustice, confusion, sadness, and unbearable loss.
How do believe Marsy’s Law for California has most helped crime victims in the state?
In California, we have the right to be part of the parole process. Prior to Marsy'sLaw, only two people could be in the parole interview room and you could usually only get a three-year denial. This time, because of Marsy's Law in California, the Board of Parole wanted to give Ernie's murderer 10 years, but they only gave him 7; but that is better than 3.
Victims can now go into court throughout the hearing. They can wear t-shirts with their loved ones' images on them, they can give impact statements, and they can be emotional. The courts still keep families of either party separate but at least we get to be there. We can get our power back and know that we will only be re-victimized if we don't use the tools we have been given.
Do you have any words of encouragement for crime victims in states where Marsy's Law has yet to pass?
Marsy's Law is a gift to crime victims. It is a gift that keeps on giving as victims use it in different ways, especially now that we have our own voice - our own attorney. The tactics of the defense attorneys - we can now match them! I would only ask that each victim makes it their mission to use Marsy's Law after passage to the full extent of their capability. Let your DA run his case but know that you too have rights and a voice that matters. Use this law for those who come after you and give them a shining example and a path forward. I hope every victim in every new state will use these constitutional rights with bravery for themselves and their loved ones.
The day hangs heavy, loose, and grey, when you're away.
A crown of thorns, a shirt of hair, is what I wear.
No one knows, my lonely heart when we're apart.
- Maya Angelou
In Loving Memory of Earnest Pickett Jr. - Love, Mom