Victim impact statements are part of the statutory rights that belong to victims of crime. Minnesota Statute 611A.038 states: “A victim has the right to submit an impact statement to the court at the time of sentencing or disposition hearing. The impact statement may be presented to the court orally or in writing, at the victim’s option. If the victim requests, the prosecutor must present the statement to the court.”
Victim impact statements offer the victim or the victim’s family an opportunity to have input into the sentencing process. In many instances, the opportunity to speak at sentencing is the only time that a victim is able to address the court. The impact statement gives a voice to the victim, even if the victim chooses not to attend the hearing.
Statements may include the following, subject to reasonable limitations as to time and length:
- A summary of the harm or trauma suffered by the victim as a result of the crime;
- A summary of the economic loss or damage suffered by the victim as a result of the crime; and
- A victim’s reaction to the proposed sentence or disposition.
All comments in the impact statement, whether in written or spoken form, must be addressed to the court and not to the offender. In some cases the victim may wish to submit a written statement only. In that instance, the statement is part of the confidential record and is not read aloud in court. Other victims wish to have their statement read so that the offender can hear about the harm and trauma that they have caused.
Some would argue that since many sentences are determined by plea agreement, as well as by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, that impact statements do not truly impact the sentencing results. This is not true. Judges have discretion in many aspects of sentencing, and an emotional impact statement can truly impact the judge’s decisions regarding sentencing. Even in cases of Murder in the First Degree, in which the sentence is a mandatory life sentence, victims are encouraged to address the court if they wish to bring their perspective into the courtroom. These statements can be very moving, and allow the deceased victim to be part of the hearing in a unique and powerful way.
Some Survivor Resources friends have been gracious enough to share their statements with us ….
Sue Maher about Her Son, Josh Christenson
“Your Honor, Alex Tovar and the newspaper have reported that he was Josh’s friend. The dictionary defines a friend as a person you know well and regard with affection and trust. Josh knew the meaning of friendship, I watched him live it from the time he was a little boy to the time that Alex Chico Tovar brutally murdered him.
“The first part of the definition reads that a friend is a person you know well. If Alex knew Josh well, then he would have known that Josh was extremely outgoing, fun loving and playful. He would have known Josh’s terrific sense of humor. Alex would have known that Josh had a big heart; he loved small children, old people and animals. He would have known that Josh very much wanted to parent. He would have known that Josh already had a name picked out for what could have been my first grandchild. Alex would have known that he was protective and loving toward his family and friends. He would have known too, that at the age of 22 he still affectionately called me Mommy and hugged me with strength, appreciation and meaning.
“Alex would also have known that after a few years in and out of the ugly world of drugs and addiction Josh had decided to bring sobriety into his life. As he described it: ‘to fight the good fight’ in life. As Josh’s friend, Alex would have known that he wanted the peace and serenity that sobriety would bring him and that Josh was striving to obtain it. Josh’s close friend would know that he was going in a new and healthy direction. That he worked hard to get his GED in the fall of 1997, in part because it was so important to me. Alex would also know that I cried with happiness and pride when Josh gave me a picture of himself in a cap and gown holding his GED as my 1997 Christmas gift. What we know now, thanks to Alex Tovar, was Josh’s last Christmas.
“Webster’s Dictionary also says to be a friend is to treat with affection and trust. Josh was fully capable of deep affection and trust. If in fact Alex were Josh’s friend, Josh would have cared for and trusted him. How then is it possible for Alex to so badly betray Josh’s trust and friendship? If Alex was Josh’s friend then he and I both know that Josh was completely incapable of doing to Alex what Alex did to him. Josh would have run to Alex’s aid if he were being ganged up on and screaming for his help. Josh wasn’t a fighter, but he could never and would never have allowed Alex to have his head and hands taped so he was completely unable to defend himself. He would never have allowed his ‘homeys’ to beat, kick, rape and stab Alex. He could never have stabbed Alex himself. Your Honor, I don’t understand how Alex can call himself Josh’s friend when he personally stood by and/or participated in kidnapping, physically confining, beating, kicking, raping, and stabbing Josh. How dare he call himself Josh’s friend.
“I want to read from some things that Josh wrote and gave me. He gave me many letters, written in his own handwriting, his own words, and many times accompanied by a drawing or picture he made for me. This [card] is something Josh made for me for Mother’s Day of 1983. his bright 8 year old smile and beautiful face in the middle of the word Mom. Inside it says:
Why I Love My Mother
She lets me play sports. She gives me treats to eat. And she loves me. And she gives me things. She takes care of me when I am sick.
“[Next] is a letter he gave me for Mother’s Day in 1996. As you can see, at the age of 20, he was still drawing me pictures and sharing his life with me. Not in store bought cards but his own words and handwriting. I want to read an excerpt from this:
I wanted to write you Mom and say thank you for all of the support you’ve given me, all these years I’ve been trying to grow up. I love you lots and have deeply appreciated all the times you’ve been there for me, all the times I was down and out. I guess I could say that we’ve been through a lot of big dramatic things in my life. I’m just glad to know that you’ll always be there and now the same goes for me. Love you always and forever, your big baby Joshua James Christenson.
“Alex’s violent and unthinkable actions have made it so that Josh can’t be there for me like he wanted. He can no longer hug me nor I him. He can no longer express his love on paper or otherwise to me. Alex Tovar has taken from me one of the most precious gifts I’ve had in my life. He murdered one half of my children. I only had two. I hate what he did to Josh and in doing so what he has done to Josh’s brother. Casey is now an only child. He has had to experience tremendous pain at a time in his life when he should be carefree, having fun and finding his way into adulthood. I hate what he has done to my life by taking the life of my oldest son. The first one that ever called me Mommy. The first one that taught me true, unconditional love.
“Now the only way I can be there for Josh is to attend Alex Tovar’s court hearings and trial and that of his violent and evil homeys. The only way I can be there for Josh now is to make sure that Alex, defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys and you, Judge Mott, know how much Josh mattered. How important his life was. How necessary it is to punish the evil people that so brutally murdered him. If Alex were Josh’s friend, he would admit his actions and those of his homeys. He will explain to the court and to me who did what, and why. He will make sure that all of the others that helped him murder Josh will also go to prison where they, too, belong.
“When I told Josh’s Dad of Alex’s jury’s verdict he said he wished capital punishment was an option in Minnesota. He wanted to watch Alex die in an electric chair. I think that that is too good for him. Too easy. He now faces at least 30 years in prison. Like Josh, he will not have the freedom to go about life. To experience the love of a woman, to participate in family as a son, brother, and as a father himself, and to spend time with the people that truly care about him. His homeys don’t care about him. They are hoping that his guilty verdict will get them off the hook. I watched Alex’s mother sob as the jury’s guilty verdict was read. The pain that he created by murdering Josh is not only affecting the many people that loved and cared about Josh. His actions are also deeply hurting the people that love and care about him. The grave difference here, your honor, is that Alex made choices, and carried out actions that landed him in this position. Josh did not. Alex’s absence from his loved ones makes sense, has direct correlation to his actions. Josh’s absence does not. Alex Chico Tovar has given Josh and his loved ones a life sentence of relentless sadness. Insane pain. Deep feelings of mistrust and fear. Extremely ugly, brutal, and violent circumstances surrounding his death. A constant nightmare of how helpless, betrayed, and scared Josh must have been in his final hours.
“We are here today to place Mr. Tovar in prison for a minimum of 30 years. It will be the year 2029 before he will be able to petition for parole. In 30 years, if he and I live that long, he will be 51 and I will be 74. I promise you and Mr. Tovar that I will attend that parole hearing and remind the court and prison officials how Alex treats his ‘friends.’ I will be there to share, what at this time I can only imagine, how much Josh’s death took from me. I will share how long Josh’s violent death kept me from sleeping, living life to the fullest and learning to trust others again.
“I hope, your honor, that my beautiful Josh’s death is a wakeup call in Mr. Tovar’s life. That he will take the gift of life that he still has and use it to make good, generous and loving choices. The kind Josh would make, if he were able.”
Mia Lee about Her Son, Kou Vang
“I would like to greet the judge and all the good people that have helped me in this case. I’m Mia Lee, Kou Vang’s mom. When Kou was still young until the day he passed away, he is a very good son. He obeys everything. And he puts his heart into everything to help me and his dad. At the time when me and his dad was at work, he watches over all his siblings in the house. He cooks for his younger siblings. And he takes good care of them and makes sure they don’t get into any trouble. Kou helps his dad mow the lawn. He helps his dad fix cars and help his dad with heavy equipment.
“Not only that, he takes good care of me and his dad and he cooks for us also. Not only that, there is many more to tell. He is a very good person and he does really good things for us. If I was going to talk about him, it would never end. He is a good boy and he has a lot of faith. And he has a lot of value to our family and we love him a lot. We only love him more even after those bad people came and killed him by our house. There is no one to watch over our younger children and cook for them anymore. Only we the parents. One of us had to quit our job to come and watch our younger children. One of us is staying home now watching over the kids and only one of us is working to support the family. And as time goes by, I feel like our family value is going down.
“I want to let parents know, parents that have good children know, how it is to have a child that is good and listens to them. They know how good it feels to have good children in the family. And if when they lose that child, they feel like dying with that child. There are more things that I would like to speak about but like I said, it could never end. It would never end if I keep talking about it.
“I would like to let my son Kou know that even though he has died, his spirit is still living. I believe that your spirit is with us every day and is with you, I believe that you’re with us and with the person that killed you. And the judge will make a good decision and take him to the dark place where he belongs. Being in jail is worse than dying. Being in jail is worse because you don’t die and you have to suffer. I want you to go and have a happy life and go peacefully and don’t worry about anything that is behind.”