GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kristine Young thought the text was a scam.
“This is not even funny,” she responded to News 8’s text. “Find someone else to scam.”
It wasn’t a scam.
News 8 reached out to Ashley Young’s mom after learning about a Kent County judge’s directive to victims’ families and friends; They are not allowed to address offenders directly at sentencing.
They can’t wear clothes bearing victims’ names or pictures either.
“I’m like, ‘you have got to be kidding,’” Young told News 8 Friday, referring to the judge’s rule. “I was pissed. Just, instantly.”
Young’s daughter, Ashley, 31, was last seen alive on Nov. 29, 2018, visiting a bar and hookah club in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood with Jared Chance, 29.
On Dec. 2, 2018, Chance’s neighbor, investigating a foul odor, discovered Ashley’s torso in the basement of Chance’s rental house.
Her head, hands and feet have never been found.
At Chance’s sentencing in October 2019, Young looked directly at him and unleashed her fury and torment.
“You had no right to take her from me,” Kristine screamed at Chance.
Four years later, Kristine recognizes that moment as critical to her grief journey.
“That’s the only way that I could release my anger,” she explained. “It’s a powerful release. You say everything you want to say directly to him and then you can start healing.”
She’s outraged that any judge would ban victims’ families from speaking directly to offenders at sentencing or wearing clothes that honor their loved ones.
Speaking to News 8 on Zoom, Kristine wore a sweatshirt that read, “#JusticeforAshley, Let’s Bring Her Home.”
She wears clothing bearing that message every Friday.
JUDGE: NO SPEAKING TO OFFENDER, NO TRIBUTE CLOTHING
On Wednesday, a clerk for 17th Circuit Court Judge Scott A. Noto sent an email to the prosecutor’s Victim Witness Unit, which Target 8 subsequently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The message was sent in advance of a Thursday morning sentencing in a homicide case.
“Judge wanted me to remind everybody that if there is going to be victim impact statements made on the record tomorrow, the statements need to be directed to the Judge not the defendant,” wrote Noto’s clerk. “He also will not tolerate any clothing that has pictures or anything regarding the victim in the courtroom. Thank you.”
While Michigan’s 1985 Crime Victim’s Rights Act gave victims and their families the right “to appear and make an oral impact statement at the sentencing of the defendant,” the statute does not address to whom they can direct that statement.
Noto recently presided over the trial of long-haul trucker Garry Artman for the 1996 rape and murder of Sharon Hammack, 29.
The jury deliberated for 30 minutes before finding Artman guilty of raping, stabbing, strangling and binding Hammack, whose body was found roadside on Oct. 3, 1996, on 76th Street between Kraft and Broadmoor.
It took 27 years to bring Hammack’s killer to justice, and her sisters were angry to learn they had been banned from talking to him directly at sentencing.
Noto, who was elected to the bench in November 2020, released a statement from his chambers Friday in response to News 8’s inquiry.
JUDGE: DEEPEST SYMPATHY, SADNESS FOR VICTIM, FAMILY
“Any judge who has sat through a trial such as this cannot feel anything but the deepest sympathy and sadness for the victim and the victim’s family,” wrote the Kent County Circuit Court Judge. “This is compounded by the length of time that has passed from the discovery of Ms. Hammack to the trial of Mr. Artman for her rape and murder.”
Noto went on to explain that Michigan law gives victims’ families the right to speak at sentencing and submit written materials to aid the judge in determining an appropriate sentence.
“Ms. Hammack’s family, like other families, has this right and they will be given a full opportunity to address the court at Mr. Artman’s sentencing,” Noto continued.
However, he explained, the rights of victims’ families are not limitless.
“This right is tempered somewhat. It is tempered by the court’s duty to respect the rights of all individuals involved, to include Mr. Artman. It is also tempered by the court’s duty to maintain decorum and to prevent escalation of what are painful and difficult emotions into confrontation. Each judge has the discretion to employ the measures he or she feels are necessary to ensure a proceeding that is fair to all parties involved and which maintains the decorum of the court,” he wrote.
Noto concluded his statement by noting that the restrictions he set are not unprecedented.
Instead, he wrote that they are measures “that many of his colleagues, past and present, have employed in cases that have come before them.”
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker declined an on-camera interview on the issue, stating that Noto is “on solid legal ground.”
PROSECUTOR: TRYING NOT TO BE JERRY SPRINGER
“I believe it is important to allow the victims to say how the crime the defendant committed impacted them and their family,” wrote Becker. “How they feel, what they have gone through, the toll it has taken on their lives are all something the judge should hear. Do they have a right to call the defendant a worthless POS and tell them all the horrible things they would like to see happen to them while in prison sexually? Not sure if court is the appropriate place for that. Trying not to be the Jerry Springer show.”
Young said she understands the desire to avoid Jerry Springer-like scenes in court but said such concerns should not eclipse families’ ability to express themselves.
“I shouldn’t have screamed in the courtroom,” conceded Young. “I shouldn’t have, and I know that.”
Still, she does not regret it.
“Not one bit,” she said.
Angelica Ferrer leads the Victim Witness unit, a division of the Kent County prosecutor’s office that assists victims and witnesses as they navigate the trial portion of the criminal justice system.
“Judges have broad discretion on what victim impact statements look like in their courtroom,” explained Ferrer, in an interview Friday from her unit’s courthouse office. “So, if the judge puts that stipulation in place, that they cannot look at the defendant and address them.. there’s nothing we can do to change it. Those stipulations are within the law.”
Ferrer was careful to note that she’s not criticizing Noto’s directive, only sharing what victims and their families have conveyed to her office.
THE “ONE-TIME” VICTIMS CAN TELL THEIR TRUTH
“I’m speaking purely as an advocate based on what I’ve heard from victims and their representatives,” Ferrer emphasized. “(Sentencing) is the one time that they get to say what’s on their mind. They get to tell their truth. Having additional stipulations on that one opportunity I think is hard for a lot of victims.”
When asked if victims and families should be able to yell when speaking to offenders during sentencing, she said, “In my opinion, yes. This is a really loud thing in their life. That harm, that trauma is really loud in their life, and so they have loud feeling feelings sometimes, loud thoughts.”
Ferrer said while there’s a line victims’ families should not cross, it’s difficult to articulate exactly where that line is.
“Courtrooms are controlled environments for a reason,” said Ferrer. “There need to be safe spaces for everyone who enters them. It’s a public forum. But victimization is messy. It’s hard. So there’s always a lot of emotion and people express emotions very differently…. We’re allowed to have loud feelings and express them loudly without it erupting into an unsafe situation where we have people going after each other.”
The advocate went on to say that, while other judges have directed victims’ families not to address offenders directly at sentencing, she’s not aware of any judges banning tribute clothes at that point in the criminal justice process.
“That hasn’t been something we’ve experienced in the past,” said Ferrer. “In general, you’re not allowed to bring pictures of the victim or wear clothing with the victims’ face on it in trial because it can prejudice the jury. Generally, in sentencing, judges have allowed pictures of the victim or signs in favor of the victim within reason.”
ADVOCATE: FAMILIES WOULD PUSH FOR CHANGE
Ferrer believes many victims, and those representing them, would push for an amendment to the state’s Crime Victim’s Rights Act to enshrine the right to speak to criminals directly at sentencing.
The Act was amended in 2018 after Jeffrey Willis, convicted of murdering Rebekah Bletsch on a rural Muskegon County road in 2014, walked out of his sentencing before Bletch’s family delivered its impact statement.
The 2018 amendment, known as the Rebekah Bletsch law, requires offenders to be present in the courtroom for victim impact statements, though judges have the discretion to remove them if they deem them disruptive or a safety threat.
In 2018, the judge who presided over the sentencing of sexual predator and former MSU doctor Larry Nassar allowed at least 150 victim impact statements to be read in court.
Nassar’s sentencing hearing lasted more than six days.
Target 8 reached out to Michigan lawmakers who sit on the judiciary committee Friday afternoon but did not immediately hear back.