Crime victim advocates say pandemic-related court delays were tough on families, witnesses

Posted at 4:43 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 20:02:22-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For more than a year, jury trials in Davidson County were rescheduled because of COVID-19.

"It has been a long time and it certainly feels very good having jury trials starting again," said Susan Tucker-Smith, Assistant Director of Victim Witness Services at the Davidson County District Attorney's Office.

Since March 2020, the Tennessee Supreme Court has issued ten orders to judicial districts about pandemic-related protocol. From March 2020 to June 2020 and again from December 2020 to March 2021, many types of in-person proceedings were suspended and strict precautions were mandated for the in-person proceedings that were allowed.

"To have everything canceled, it takes a huge toll on people," Tucker-Smith said.

Susan Tucker-Smith helps Davidson County crime victims and witnesses navigate the judicial process.

She knows the court delays and subsequent backlog will affect families and people that need to take the stand.

"I think the hardest thing is that as time goes by healing is occurring, even though it might be slow. So, a few months go by and they haven't heard anything from us, and they start to get some normalcy back in their life, and they start to feel a little better and then I call again, and it just kind of rips open that wound. That continues to happen time and time again until the case is resolved," she said.

The trial of decommissioned Metro Police Officer Andrew Delke is set to start next month. At a motion hearing on Monday, a victim's advocate sat with the family of the man Delke is accused of killing nearly three years ago.

Across county lines in Dickson County, the Joseph Daniels murder trial is happening more than three years after he's accused of killing his five-year-old son. The state called to the stand the victim's older brother. He was asked to testify about what he could remember about the night Joe Clyde Daniels disappeared.

Tucker-Smith explained how elapsed time can affect a witness.

"Some witnesses obviously don't want to be thinking about things. They put it out of their mind. They've tried not to remember what they saw or heard," she explained.

Tucker-Smith said her office always tells witnesses to be honest about what they remember.

"I think the most important thing we tell witnesses is to always tell the truth. That is the most important thing, so if you don't remember something or you don't know something that is what you need to say. Don't guess. Don't try to make up something. Don't answer questions like you think people want you to answer them," she said.

The Victim Witness Services at the Davidson County District Attorney's Office is in contact with victims and witnesses within days of an incident occurring and stays in touch until the case is closed.