Entitled to a voice

A look at the local support network for victims of violent crime and their families

Chico resident Donna Teifer was murdered by her son, Adam Jacob, in September 2012.

Chico resident Donna Teifer was murdered by her son, Adam Jacob, in September 2012.


A place for victims:
Go to www.buttecounty.net/da/victim.htm for more information on services provided by the Butte County Victim/Witness Assistance Center.

On a fall day in 2012, Joe Teifer received one of the worst phone calls imaginable. The previous night, his 56-year-old sister, Donna Teifer, had been stabbed to death while she slept in her home on the west side of Chico.

Not only that, the ensuing investigation implicated Donna’s son, Adam Jacob, as the murderer. Within days of his mother’s killing, Jacob was arrested by Butte County sheriff’s deputies.

During a recent phone interview with the CN&R, Joe, who lives in New Jersey, said that his family is scattered around the country, with brothers in Louisiana and Virginia and a sister in New Jersey. Donna’s closest surviving relative, her daughter, lives in Utah. Due to the distances involved, Joe said, the logistics of arranging a funeral, managing his sister’s estate and cleaning up her house became overwhelming.

But when Joe’s wife and sister flew to Chico a couple months after Donna’s death, they met with Monica O’Neil, a coordinator for the Butte County Victim/Witness Assistance Center, and Mark Murphy, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case. From that point forward, Joe said, the family was in good hands.

“Being close to the case without being there was probably the most important thing to us, to understand what was going on as the case moved forward,” he said.

Keeping victims and their families in the know during court proceedings is an important part of what the California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) is designed to do, O’Neil said.

“Part of our program is advocacy; we alert victims to what’s going on in court,” she said. “Sometimes victims want to participate in every phase of the case. We escort them to court, sit with them in court and explain what’s happening. If there’s a delay in the case, we tell them why.”

That support, Joe said, was invaluable during the emotionally draining multiple-day trial, which he attended with his wife and sister this past February.

“The first day of the trial, they told us what to expect in the courtroom, how to act, they sat with us, they monitored us in terms of our emotions,” he said. “I just can’t imagine going though [the trial] without a compassionate ally.”

Two of those allies—Murphy and Jason Miller, a Butte County sheriff’s detective—will soon receive awards for “going above and beyond in providing services to victims,” said District Attorney Mike Ramsey. The pair will be honored on Wednesday, April 9, during a celebration for victims, witnesses and their families at the Board of Supervisors chambers (25 County Center Drive in Oroville).

Additionally, three local victims will speak on their experience in the criminal justice system, while the Butte County Deputy District Attorneys’ Association will pay tribute to a victim and a witness who have demonstrated “extraordinary courage,” Ramsey said. The celebration starts at 2 p.m.

CalVCP has been using money collected through criminal fines to support victims of violent crime since 1974, O’Neil said. In addition to advocacy services, the program offers financial help with medical and mental health treatment, relocation and even crime scene cleanup, O’Neil said. More recently, California codified the rights of victims with Marsy’s Law, or the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008.

Prior the bill’s passage, “victims would be involved in a crime, but the defendants seemed to have all the rights,” O’Neil said. “All the continuances were allowed in court for defense purposes, but the victims were often left out of the picture and didn’t know what was happening.

“Marsy’s Law is what gives victims information, advocacy and guidance when they’re going through the system.”

Until January 2012, the Victim/Witness Assistance Center was under the umbrella of Butte County Probation. The arrangement had its drawbacks: Occasionally, victims or witnesses would find themselves in the waiting room right alongside the person who committed the crime against them.

Now the center is under the same roof as the District Attorney’s Office, victims don’t have to worry about bumping into their aggressor, and it’s been much easier for victims to arrange a meeting with the prosecutor working their case or to meet up with an escort prior to a court appearance, O’Neil said.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, the Victim/Witness Assistance Center provided financial help to 3,119 victims in Butte County, paying out a total of just more than $770,000 in compensation funds. Of those who received assistance, most were either domestic violence or assault victims, while physical and sexual abuse of children, robbery, adult sexual assault, DUIs resulting in injuries or death, and elder abuse were prevalent but less common.

In the months leading up to the trial, Joe and his family utilized many of the services offered through CalVSP. O’Neil referred Joe to a local attorney to manage Donna’s estate and a company to clean up her house after the murder. Donna’s cremation and funeral service were covered through the program, as was mental health counseling for every member of the family.

“We work closely with the counseling community here in Butte County,” Ramsey said. “We have a long list of family counselors who get paid from this fund, and also a number of them who do pro-bono work.”

The Victim/Witness Assistance Center also helped Joe and his family craft impact statements, which he said was “very important for our mental well-being.”

“[Victims] are entitled to this voice in the court, particularly at the time of sentencing,” O’Neil said. “They’ll write a statement about what the crime has done to them and their lives, and oftentimes they will speak at the sentence hearing. It can be incredibly compelling.”

During the trial, O’Neil was at the family’s side, explaining legal processes and what to expect next, while Murphy was clear about what he was trying to accomplish in court from the beginning, Joe said. “When [Jacob] was found guilty, we already knew what the sentence was going to be.”

That sentence, handed down on March 19, was 26 years to life in prison. Before a 12-person jury, Murphy established that Jacob acted out of fear of losing custody of his son. Jacob’s wife was divorcing him, and Donna apparently sided with her daughter-in-law, according to a note written by Donna found at the crime scene.

“Donna was fearful for the child’s life and had petitioned the court to make sure her daughter-in-law had custody of her grandchild,” Joe said. “Her grandchild was the center of her life, and she did not trust that child in [Jacob’s] presence.

“She gave her life for that.”