I’m sitting on a couch in our lobby as I write this. My lower back hurts from sitting in my office chair that is broken and I can’t seem to focus. My mind is wandering. Maybe I’m in our lobby for a different reason though. Maybe I’m looking for some different perspective. More than a thousand women, children, and men have sat on this couch in the past year. They sat here because someone, more than likely someone very close to them, raped or physically assaulted them. And now they wait to meet with one of our counselors to try to make sense of it all. My back pain seems pretty insignificant now.
Yesterday I sat in the Mellon family kitchen. Amy was stabbed seven times in 2003 by her husband and killed. Joe Fecht was sentenced to 30 years in prison for this heinous act. The Mellon family was in court this past week and were informed that the presiding judge is thinking about reducing Joe’s sentence. The family received a letter from the victim witness coordinator stating the following: “Judge VanDeHey advised that the offender’s decision to not seek a withdrawal of his plea is a ‘new factor’and that the offender is giving up this right because it shows remorse. The Judge wants to give the offender consideration.”
It is impossible for me to put myself in the shoes of this family. They’ve lost so much. They lost their daughter, their mom, their sister, their aunt, their friend. Now they are forced to relive this nightmare once again: to retell a story that they hoped and prayed to put behind them forever. And for what? Because a man who expressed no remorse for killing his wife less than 10 years ago now appears to have remorse? Why does the judge want to give the offender “consideration?” What about the consideration needed for the Mellon family? Questions swirled around the room, none of which I had answers for.
My heart sank when I sat with the family as they tearfully shared what they have already been through. What could I possibly say? I told them that we were there for them. I asked them to tell me what we could do to make this better. At one point in the discussion, a family member leaned toward me over the kitchen table and made a very specific request. ”We need people to know what happened to Amy. We need the support of our community. No one should ever go through this. No one.” Message received…loud and clear.
We need to take as many people as possible to Lancaster, WI this Thursday to be with the Mellon family in court. Please consider supporting the Mellon family by joining me and others this Thursday in the Lancaster courthouse. I have arranged for a shuttle to leave Riverview Center’s Dubuque office (2600 Dodge Street) at 12:30pm so that we can be present for the 1:30pm hearing. I have shirts for everyone to wear that read “Stop the Silence.”
We must stop our own “silence.” Everyone involved in this case, and the community at large, needs to speak out and demand justice for Amy Mellon. Our voices will be heard. They must. Your presence alone will send a very strong message to all survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They will know that others support them and they will feel empowered to come forward to seek help. You will also be sending a message to the perpetrators of violence. They will know that they will be held accountable for their actions and that violence of any kind will not be tolerated or excused here.