The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at The University of Texas at Austin was called to Fort Hood on April 10 to provide testimony as part of a recent hearing in the case of United States vs. Maj. Nadal Hasan. The institute’s Defense-initiated Victim Outreach (DIVO) program was being considered for use in the case, in which Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of first-degree murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood.
Hasan’s defense team was seeking funding for a victim outreach specialist to serve as a bridge between the victim survivors in this case and the defense team. Such outreach allows victim survivors’ needs to be communicated to the defense and their responses communicated back. The program gives victim survivors a stronger voice in a process that affects their lives.
The hearing represents the first time testimony has been heard related to DIVO and its application in a military court martial. The Institute’s Director Marilyn Armour and Assistant Director Stephanie Frogge testified in support of the defense’s motion to fund an outreach specialist to provide services to victim survivors. Their testimony focused on the concept and practice of DIVO, with particular emphasis on how it has been implemented in Texas.
“We’re honored that they selected the DIVO program at The University of Texas at Austin to provide services to the victim survivors in this case,” said Armour, an associate professor in the School of Social Work. “The shooting was a terrible tragedy for our nation and state, and it’s important the defense recognized that the pursuit of justice in this case should be one that provided the very best resources we have for victim survivors.”
Defense-initiated Victim Outreach is standard protocol in federal capital cases and is growing at the state level in both capital and noncapital cases. A recent evaluation of The University of Texas at Austin program noted that in 54 percent of cases in which outreach was made, the victim survivors had questions and concerns they wanted relayed to the defense through their victim outreach specialist. In response to requests, DIVO is careful not to duplicate existing services.
“The judge’s questions showed a genuine interest and desire to learn about DIVO and how it operates, and how it might apply in this very high-profile case,” said Frogge. “As I understand it, our testimony provides a record for the military going forward, and that advances the opportunity for more victim survivors to have this resource available to them in future cases.”
Although the judge denied funding for DIVO, the decision was not unexpected.
“The burden of proof is very high for things of this nature in the military,” said Maj. Christopher Martin, a member of Hasan’s defense team. “What was at issue here was whether we could show that DIVO was necessary for a strong defense for Hasan. While we still are committed to seeing how the defense can also assist victim survivors in military cases, we recognize that this decision was made based on legal factors and wasn’t a reflection of the value of the program.”