Mother Fights For Law Change, Would Affect Pedophiles And Victims - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3/23/05

Mother Fights For Law Change, Would Affect Pedophiles And Victims

"It's not right that everything is in the predator's court," Stephanie Burt said. "He relies on the fact that he knows a child is too afraid and too traumatized to come forth."

Stephanie is talking about her own son, Tommy, who did not tell his mother about his abuse, until after it was too late to prosecute his alleged abuser, Kenneth Ward.

Ward was a Henderson teacher and Tommy's childhood preacher. In 1998, Ward confessed to molesting at least 35 East Texas boys over a 40-year period. He was charged in only one of those incidents because of the statute of limitations, a time limit on how long a victim has to come forward.

"We had a prosecutable case," William Brown, criminal investigator for the Rusk County District Attorney's office, said. "To see it, for lack of a better phrase, dismissed by a technicality -- that happens in law enforcement everyday -- but it's always frustrating."

The current statute of limitations law allows victims to press charges in sex crimes within 10 years of their 18th birthday. But there is no time limit, if there is DNA evidence.

Stephanie is working to remove the limit entirely. She moved to Austin two years ago, when we first spoke with her. And everyday, Stephanie walks the halls of the state Capitol, telling her story to legislators.

She has gotten Representative Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville to co-author a bill in the House, and Senator Kevin Eltife to co-sponsor a Senate bill.

"Just a total tragedy that you wouldn't want anybody else to go through," Eltife, R-Tyler, said. "And her passion and her determination really got me involved in this issue."

Eltife says he's hopeful the bill will pass, but he's not certain.

"There are detractors that'll say, if you remove the statute of limitations, there's a possibility that someone's falsely accused. That's a possibility now. But the pros far outweight the cons on this issue," he said.

That's what Stephanie hopes other lawmakers will see.

"It's our children's safety that is at stake," Stephanie said.

The bill must first go through the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, before it can be presented on the floor of the House or Senate.

Eltife says, within the next few weeks, they should have a better idea of when or if that will happen.

As far as Ward, he is still in a half-way house in Dallas on parole. He's expected to be there for several more years.

Julie Tam, reporting.

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