Kathryn's law: Harrington supports campus cop demotion
The days of campus police leading murder and rape investigations are coming to an end if the parents of slain Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington have anything to say about it.
On November 16, the Virginia Crime Commission will hear testimony from the Harringtons and other victims in support of HB2490, also known as Kathryn's Law, which would require campus police departments to hand over such serious criminal investigations to local law enforcement agencies.
"I don't anticipate a fight," says Morgan's mother Gil Harrington, who visited the John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday, September 9 to speak with media about the proposed law. "It just makes sense."
The mother of the young woman whose case inspired the bill, Susan Russell, has also expressed hope that this year lawmakers will approve the measure. (It was passed over last year by the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee, which recommended it for review by the Crime Commission.)
Having called it "a bill for victims," Russell says her daughter, Kathryn Russell, was allegedly raped in an off-campus apartment, and the alleged assailant, a fellow UVA student, was never prosecuted or punished in any way by the school.
Russell has publicly criticized UVA for its handling of her daughter's case, and she's not the only one. Liz Seccuro made international news in 2006 after her UVA rapist confessed to the 22-years-earlier crime and was convicted of attacking her. She wrote a book published earlier this year alleging that the UVA hospital wouldn't test her with a rape kit and that administrators discouraged her from pressing charges.
And perhaps no one has more reason to be angry than the family of Pat Collins, the UVA graduate student who disappeared in 1986. His family has long contended that the UVA Police Department bungled the investigation– a view recently bolstered when the FBI agent whose support for the UVA Department warded off official inquiries revealed, in a recent Hook cover story, that he's now sorry.
Neither UVA spokesperson Carol Wood nor UVA Police spokerson Melissa Fielding immediately responded to a reporter's query.
Harrington has never criticized the UVA Police, an accreditation-seeking professional department that quickly handed jurisdiction of her daughter's case over to the Virginia State Police after the young woman was reported missing after an October 2009 Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena on the UVA Grounds.
By speaking publicly now, more than two months before the Virginia Crime Commission hearing, Harrington says she hopes to increase awareness and urges the public to contact their legislators to express support for the bill. She's also hoping to see a federal law enacted that would provide investigative consistency on campuses in every state.
"The response to murder and rape," she says, "should be the same across the nation."
Online correction: The caption under the photo of Gil Harrington described the sign by which she stands as new. According to UVA spokesperson Carol Wood, those signs are not new–Ed.