Reaching out to victims of crime

Daughter’s slaying spurred Ropers to advocacy

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

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Staff Photo by Christopher Anderson
Roberta and Vincent Roper started the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center after their daughter, Stephanie, was murdered in 1982. The center advocates for crime victims and their families and provides outreach services to them in its Upper Marlboro offices.

Roberta and Vincent Roper sprang into action 25 years ago following the brutal slaying of their daughter, Stephanie.

They launched the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation Inc. in October 1982. Twenty years later, in 2002, the organization’s name changed to the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center Inc., with offices in Prince George’s County and Baltimore city, and with a statewide mandate to advocate policy changes and provide free legal representation and counseling services for victims and survivors of crime.

Today, many victims of crime turn to the center for counseling and legal assistance, and the Ropers and staff at the center continue to lobby lawmakers for legislation to help surviving victims and their families.

The center continues to maintain a strong presence at General Assembly sessions in Annapolis, and has aided in the passage of more than 70 new laws to protect and enforce victims’ rights, including a state constitutional amendment for crime victims’ rights passed in 1994. The recently ended legislative session included the passage of several victims’ rights bills, including HB 93, requiring the Maryland comptroller to distribute unclaimed money from judgments of restitution to the State Victims of Crime Fund to be used for grants to provide legal counsel to victims.

The Ropers’ activism came on the heels of Stephanie’s murder on April 3, 1982. The 22-year-old Frostburg State University student was returning to her home in Croom after visiting a friend in Brandywine.

Her car became disabled, and Jack Ronald Jones and Jerry Lee Beatty pounced upon her.

‘‘They stopped to see what was wrong and offered to help her, but kidnapped her at gunpoint,” recalled Roberta Roper. ‘‘She was missing for nine days. Her body was recovered late Easter Sunday morning in St. Mary’s County.”

Jones and Beatty were jailed for life for Stephanie’s rape, torture and murder.

Roberta and Vincent Roper became crusading advocates on behalf of victims of crime in Prince George’s and beyond.

Roberta Roper said she was not allowed to give a victim impact statement, which would have allowed her to address the court before the sentence was handed down, to talk about how the family was hurting over the loss.

‘‘I had hoped to speak before sentencing, and that right was denied so I never got to express my feelings,” said Roberta Roper, who chairs the MCVRC board of directors. ‘‘The perception was that I was an emotional mother that wanted revenge.”

At its inception, however, the MCVRC rallied to change the court system that sentenced the two convicts to consecutive life sentences with eligibility for parole in 11 years. In 1983, the Ropers achieved their first victory. Victim impact statements became a mandate in Maryland, leaving participation in testimony up to the family, not the courts.

‘‘Victims at that time in 1982 were just pieces of evidence,” reflected Vincent Roper. ‘‘To this day I still don’t like to go into court.”

When Vincent and Roberta Roper first began lobbying legislators from their kitchen table as the Stephanie Roper Committee, they never imagined they would have such an impact. In 2002 the foundation adopted the MCVRC name.

‘‘Our daughter was in the forefront for so long we wanted to kind of step aside for others,” Vincent Roper said.

The Ropers have stepped aside to some degree, naming Russell Butler as MCVRC’s executive director and allowing other attorneys and counselors to play a more active role.

Though many people assume the work is depressing, Roberta Roper said she finds it empowering to see a victim go from a state of utter despair to being able to find happiness in his or her life again.

Because crimes against Stephanie Roper were committed in both Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties, two trials were held. At the second trial, in Prince George’s, the killers were convicted again and their sentences extended. Jones has since died, and Beatty remains in jail with no upcoming parole hearings.

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