Fayetteville, Arkansas – Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced today that Matthew Smith of Little Rock, and Dr. Marc Smith of Texarkana, were honored with the Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award today at the National Crime Victim’s Rights Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Smith brothers selflessly and courageously spearheaded a change in the law in the State of Arkansas to eliminate the statute of limitations on prosecution of child sex offenders. This extraordinary piece of legislation removed an obstacle to prosecution of those that abuse kids and makes the legal landscape more victim-friendly for future generations of Arkansans.
The Smith brothers had been serially abused by the same coach, Walter Richard Roberts, in their childhood. In 2012, Dr. Smith encountered the perpetrator working with youth at a local baseball field. Dr. Smith contacted law enforcement which led to an investigation in which more than ten adult men were identified as victims of the coach. The state statute of limitations at that time precluded prosecution of the coach for crimes committed when the men were minors in the 1980’s and 1990’s. According to court records and testimony in court, during that time period, Roberts made several trips across state lines with minor children, all under the age of 12 at the time, in order to engage in sexual activity. During one instance, Roberts transported two victims from Arkansas to a business in Texarkana, Texas, where he had the minors get into the back of his van and sexually abused them. Roberts transported one of these same minors again on a separate trip to Wright Patman Lake in Texas, telling the youth to get into the back of his van, where he proceeded to sexually molest the victim. Finally, during the summer of 1988 or 1989, Roberts transported a third victim on a fishing trip to Beard’s Lake in Arkansas. Roberts sexually abused the victim while driving on Highway 71 from Texarkana. During interviews with investigators, Roberts admitted to further sexual abuse of the minor victims. Specifically, Roberts stated that he continued to abuse one of the minors over a five-year period. Roberts was originally indicted on August 22, 2012. He pleaded guilty on November 1, 2012 and was sentenced in May, 2013 to ten years in prison, the statutory maximum.
U.S. Attorney Eldridge commented, “Thanks to leadership of the Smiths, a barrier to the pursuit of justice on behalf of victims of childhood sexual abuse in Arkansas has now been removed. As a result, those that abuse kids in Arkansas will be subject to prosecution for the rest of their lives, regardless of when the abuse is discovered. We should all thank the Smith brothers for their efforts, and we should also continue the fight against child sexual abuse armed with this enhanced ability to bring abusers to justice.”
Attorney General Eric Holder presided over the National Crime Victims’ Rights Service Awards ceremony at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21. The event honors 12 individuals and programs for their extraordinary actions to bring positive and lasting changes in the lives of crime victims.
“The Department of Justice is proud to recognize the tremendous contributions of dedicated colleagues, passionate advocates and extraordinary partners in the field of victim services,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “From safeguarding survivors of sexual violence to assisting victims of mass marketing fraud, the recipients of today’s awards have been instrumental in our nationwide effort to protect the most vulnerable among us, to prevent and combat crime, and to help victims find hope and seek justice.”
The Department’s Office for Victims of Crime leads communities across the country in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and hosts an award ceremony each year. President Reagan proclaimed the first Victims’ Rights Week in 1981, calling for greater sensitivity to the rights and needs of victims. For 2015, the week is observed from April 19 through 25, with the theme Engaging Communities – Empowering Victims.
Following is a list of the award recipients, who were nominated by their colleagues in the field and selected by the Attorney General:
The Ronald Wilson Reagan Public Policy Award honors leadership, innovation and vision that leads to noteworthy changes in public policy that benefit crime victims. Recipients: Dr. Marcus Smith and attorney Matthew Smith, of Little Rock, Arkansas, and Director of Victim Services Suzanne Breedlove of the District Attorneys Council in Oklahoma City.
The Allied Professional Award recognizes an individual or organization outside the victim assistance field for services or contributions to the victims’ field. Recipients: Mary Kay Inc. of Addison, Texas, and Assistant District Attorney Norman A. Gahnof the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.
The Crime Victims Financial Restoration Award recognizes individuals, programs, organizations or teams that developed innovative ways of funding services for crime victims or instituted innovative approaches for securing financial restoration for crime victims. Recipient: A team of representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the department’s Asset Forfeiture Money Laundering Section and U.S. Postal Inspection Service for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The National Crime Victim Service Award honors extraordinary efforts in direct service to crime victims. Recipients: Karen Kalergis, a victim advocate from Austin, Texas, and Executive Director Alecia “Lisa” Thompson-Heth of Wiconia Wawokiya Inc., of the Crow Creek Sioux Indian Reservation, Fort Thompson, South Dakota.
The Crime Victims’ Rights Award honors those whose efforts to advance or enforce crime victims’ rights have benefited crime victims at the state, tribal or national level. Recipient: Laurel Wemhoff, a survivor and advocate from Washington, D.C.
The Professional Innovation in Victim Service Award recognizes a program, organization or individual who has helped to expand the reach of victims’ rights and services. Recipient: Judge Paul M. Herbert of the Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio.
The Special Courage Award recognizes extraordinary bravery in the aftermath of a crime or courageous act on behalf of a victim or potential victim. Recipients: Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The Vision 21 Crime Victims Research Award recognizes individual researchers or research teams that make a significant contribution to the nation’s understanding of crime victims’ issues. Recipient: Rebecca Campbell, of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Volunteer for Victims Award honors individuals for their extraordinary and selfless efforts resulting in positive and lasting changes in the lives of crime victims. Recipient: LaWanda Hawkins, of San Pedro, California.
Descriptive narratives and videos of the contributions of recipients are available at Office for Victims of Crime’s Gallery.
About the Office of Justice Programs (OJP)
OJP, headed by Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. More information about OJP can be found at www.ojp.gov.