Tip on sex abuse guilty plea leads to conversation about victims’ rights


Roy Ludvig Derry

A recent newsroom tip about a man who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in Dakota County, and the subsequent request for details about his case, sparked a conversation with Dakota County officials about protecting the young person who was victimized by the man, and the larger issue of victims’ rights.

April 8 to 14 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which comes with the annual challenge to “confront and remove barriers to full justice for all victims.” 

 

The tip

The tip that came into the newsroom at the end of March inquired about Roy Ludvig Derry, a 75-year-old Inver Grove Heights resident who, according to the tipstser, had recently pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct. When asked for details about the case against Derry, Monica Jensen, community relations director for the Dakota County Attorney’s Office, said the criminal complaint against Derry was very sensitive.

Derry was charged with one count of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a $3,000 fine or both.

The brief criminal complaint against him states that on May 12, 2017, the South St. Paul Police Department received a report of sexual abuse that occurred in the city from 2008 to 2010. The report was initiated when a 15-year-old girl told her mother, then her therapist, that she had been sexually abused by Derry. 

The abuse happened at Derry’s former South St. Paul residence when the victim was living there with him and his wife. At the time, she was between 7 and 9 years old, making Derry nearly 60 years her senior.

The victim was interviewed by a nurse at the Midwest Children’s Resource Center. The girl said she lived with Derry and his wife for two years. She said that sometimes at night she would become scared, so she would get in bed with them. According to the complaint, on two or three of the times she slept in the bed with Derry, he put his fingers inside her underwear and touched her vaginal area. The victim reported Derry would make her put her hands on his genitals, both over and under his clothes. There were also occasions when they were at a hotel out of town when Derry would touch her genital area over her swimsuit when they were in a hot tub. 

Derry first appeared in court on the charge in November of last year. He pleaded guilty March 15 and will be sentenced in June. The person who brought Derry’s crime to light hopes that by publicizing it, more victims might come forward.

 

Finding out your rights

In light of Derry’s case, Jensen pointed the Review to Kelly Nicholson, the victim/witness supervisor for Dakota County, to further the discussion about victims’ rights.

Nicholson’s office is tasked with helping victims and witnesses make it through the criminal justice process. County Attorney James Backstrom said the Victim/Witness Assistance Program was established in 1977. 

Since taking office in 1987, Backstrom said he has helped expand the program, which now provides non-judgmental support, case-specific information and guidance in Dakota County to more than 3,500 people each year. 

Most people don’t know what their rights are until they become a victim. Nicholson said the first thing a police officer should do when a person who’s been a victim of a crime comes to them, by statute, is give them an information card, which is always on blue paper.

This document, known as the blue card, outlines what the victim’s rights are and also outlines a variety of resources.

“Usually, until a police report is made, people have no idea they even have rights as a crime victim,” Nicholson said.

What happens after a victim comes forward will depend on the type of crime and its level of severity.

If a case is reported to police and charged at the felony level, Nicholson’s office is notified about it. Through writing or making phone calls, the office lets people know that they do have rights and the right to information about their case.

“Our title is victim/witness specialist, but we’re advocates, just advocates within the court system rather than advocates within a shelter,” Nicholson said, pointing out her office tries to meet whatever needs a victim who comes forward might have, like childcare support or housing. This can also mean helping a victim understand what is going on with their case and helping them to participate in the case. 

 

What about privacy?

While victims have rights, so do those accused of crimes. All states and U.S. territories have some type of state constitutional amendment that includes victims’ rights, or state law that provides victims’ rights, while the U.S. Constitution lays out clear rights for the accused.

“Under the Constitution, which trumps everything, defendants have the right to confront their accuser,” Nicholson said.

“When a defendant’s right is violated, there’s a consequence for that,” she said. “When a victim’s rights are violated, there’s no consequence for that.”

Though laws say victims can request their information be kept confidential in police reports, their identity will eventually become known if the case goes to trial.

Nicholson said she is unaware of any situations in which a victim or witness was kept completely confidential. Many times the victim and offender already know each other on some level. There are some cases, like burglary or fraud, where the two parties don’t know each other, which Nicholson said can be concerning for the victim, though in her experience such worries are unfounded.

“I’ve been doing this 22 years and I have yet to have a situation where an offender who is unknown to a victim reoffends against them by threatening them or assaulting them ... in retaliation for making the report,” she said. 

 

Getting more 

information

Dakota County typically posts criminal complaints to an online system, but Jensen said the Derry complaint wasn’t put in the system because of its graphic nature. 

“The reason we didn’t post the criminal complaint, the full piece, was because of the graphicness of what’s in there,” Jensen said.

With respect to other possibly sensitive cases, such as one involving the Boy Scouts, Jensen said, a news release was sent out because the county attorney’s office thought there could be more than just one victim in the community.

Within the news release, there was information about how victims could contact the office. 

“If we are looking for someone or something, we will [put out] those direct pieces,” Jensen said.

If a press release is about domestic or sexual violence, it will list potential resources that say it is important for people with information to come forward. 

 

Victims finding strength

Victims don’t come forward because of a number of factors, including shame and embarrassment.

Nicholson said sometimes victims will label a crime as something else. It’s not that a victim denies what happened to them, it is just they aren’t aware of what it is. Once they are aware, then the shame and embarrassment can come in. 

These feelings aren’t relegated to sex abuse or other very personal crimes; they can also be related to burglaries, where someone doesn’t want to get blamed for forgetting to lock their door.

Jensen said people also feel like they don’t want to bother the police, despite the fact that police are the best equipped to know what needs to be done.

“What people don’t realize is how one auto theft break-in, how it relates to everything else that may be going on in that block or that community,” Jensen said. 

For a victim to come forward, Nicholson said it takes courage. 

“If you can reach out and ask for help, that’s always a good sign,” Nicholson said. “I don’t think people always give themselves enough credit for doing that.”

 

There is help

Nicholson said her office’s tagline is, “If you or someone you know has been a victim of crime, help is available.”

“Nothing is more important in the criminal justice process than serving the needs of the victims of crime,” said Backstrom. “We work hard each day in the Dakota County Attorney’s Office to help victims cope with the personal trauma and financial losses inflicted upon them and insure that those who commit crimes in our community are held accountable.”

What’s most important to her, Nicholson said, is for victims to be able to deal with and process what’s happened. It’s about giving control back to the victim.

“They’re now more in control over what happens in that story,” she said, “and it’s not just somebody else and something that somebody did to them that defines what their story is.”

 



Victim Services:

Departments and community agencies that provide help to crime victims (note: lines are not answered 24 hours a day):

 

Dakota County Attorney’s Office, Victim Witness Program: 651-438-4548

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving): 651-523-0802

Minnesotans for Safe Driving: 952-238-0970

Parents of Murdered Children (POMC): 612-789-5947

Tubman Family Alliance (domestic violence): 612-825-3333

Eagle’s Nest (Native American shelter): 651-222-5836

CUHCC (Asian and Somali domestic violence and sexual assault program): 612-638-0674

Asian Women United of MN domestic violence shelter and services): 612-724-8823

Crime Victims Reparations Board:
(metro) 651-201-7300
(outside metro area) 1-888-622-8799
(TTY) 1-651-205-7310

Crime Victim Justice Unit (if you feel your victims’ rights were violated): 651-201-7310

Communication Services for the Deaf, Inc.: Voice/VP 651-964-2051



 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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