Sitting in a courtroom Thursday listening to a man plead guilty for his role in her son’s murder, Tracey Cochran felt voiceless, and desperate.
“It’s so hard to sit there and listen to this kid talk about handing over the knife that killed my son,” Cochran said. “I couldn’t handle it. I got up and left.”
Shannon Cochran, 22, was stabbed in January 2009 while defending a friend against several attackers who claimed they were owed a drug debt.
After leaving the hearing for Christopher Hooper, one of the teens charged in her son’s murder, Tracey Cochran walked to the Spokane County commissioners hearing room and sat with dozens of victims of violent crimes for the annual candlelight vigil in observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
A week of awareness for victims’ rights has been observed since 1981, when it was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan. The vigil allows crime victims, families of homicide victims, and advocates to share a moment of silence, and for victims to have their stories heard.
“It’s easier to speak in front of people who have gone through this pain,” said Cochran’s niece, Stephanie Martinez.
The event is put on each year by the Spokane County Victim/Witness Unit. Guest speakers Thursday included city and county officials, Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. Each spoke about the importance of defending the rights of victims, to make sure they are treated with dignity and respect during what can be a difficult legal process, followed by years of grief and healing.
“No court, no jail, no justice system can heal that pain,” said Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard.
Richard and Knezovich both pledged to continue funding programs that support victims’ rights, such as the Domestic Violence Consortium – despite budget woes.
But the true voices of Thursday’s vigil were those who go on each day with only the memory of their loved ones. It also provided a place to heal for those who are themselves survivors of a crime, like domestic violence or sexual assault.
“I got to a place in my life where I was so angry and so devastated,” said Lizzie Hughey, 19, who was raped nearly four years ago by a much older co-worker. “I’m ready to talk about it now with others.”
Friday was the first time Hughey spoke out about her crime with others outside of her advocate and the legal system. Typically, The Spokesman-Review doesn’t name victims of sexual assault. However, Hughey consented to have her name published.
She was able to stand up at trial against her attacker, and last year she attended the vigil but wasn’t ready to speak.
“It’s almost healing, all over again,” she said. “I’ll be coming to these as long as they go on.”