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Seeking restitution for victims of violent crime: Part I

No matter what your views on gun control may be, it is difficult to ignore the fact that no other industrialized nation on earth experiences as many mass shootings, murders and other violent crimes as the United States. These horrific incidents are now so common that many Americans have simply stopped watching the news.

After the shock and sadness have waned, these stories largely fade into the background. Perpetrators who live to stand trial are duly punished by the criminal justice system. But the aftermath of these violent crimes does not end there. The victims, families and everyone else affected by them are often left with physical and emotional injuries that may never fully heal.

Recently, ABC News ran a story about the jurors who presided over the trial of James Holmes, the man behind the Colorado movie theater shootings in 2012. Although none of the jurors were present when the shooting occurred, many have been left permanently scarred by what they have seen and heard. For 14 weeks, the jury listened to frightening and heartbreaking testimony from victims and their families. They saw gruesome photos and held the murder weapons in their own hands.

Now, months after the trial, many of those jurors are finding it difficult to cope. Some are seeing therapists; others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some say they cannot sleep without having nightmares.

The jurors have largely been able to maintain their anonymity, which is crucial for their own safety. But some of those jurors say they still worry about being recognized in public by the victims who were present in the courtroom. Others cannot escape the guilt they feel for failing to obtain a death sentence for Holmes.

In a recent, anonymous interview, one female juror said: "I wasn't actually in that theater, but I listened to and felt the experiences of everyone who was, from every angle. I felt their sorrow and their sadness. And when I left the courtroom, I took it all with me."

If these are the experiences of jurors, it is difficult to comprehend how much worse victims and their families must be feeling.

The Colorado theater shooting is a particularly horrifying example of violent crime. But many victims of "lesser" crimes are nonetheless left to cope with overwhelming grief, pain and psychological trauma.

For these victims, criminal justice may not be enough. That's one of the many reasons why violent crime victims may also wish to seek restitution in a civil trial.

Please check back as we continue this conversation in our next post.

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