A Closer Look with Ashlee Birk
On March 11, 2011, Emmett Birk was shot and killed in a Walgreens parking lot by the husband of a secret mistress. His wife, Ashlee, was made a widow at the age of 28 with 5 children.
Ashlee is a survivor and through her trials, she has used her own story to bring comfort and healing to others. Ashlee shares her story through a blog and book series entitled, “The Moments We Stand.” In them, she tells of her personal journey of healing and seeking peace after the murder of her husband Emmett.
Ashlee resides in Idaho and supports Marsy’s Law. Below she explains more of her story and how Marsy’s Law would have impacted her journey.
As you know, crime victims’ rights in Idaho are not enshrined in the state’s constitution. Can you talk about how this gives the accused and convicted a greater level of constitutional rights versus crime victims?
There are so many rights that protect the accused here in Idaho, but as victims, we do not receive the same care. How this looks in a courtroom is very emotionally hard for those who sit on the victim’s side. Attorneys are allowed to downplay the life of victims, but rights protect the same to be done to the accused. Perpetrators can be offered freedom before anyone hears how this will affect the people they offended. Feelings of the victims are forgotten, as attorneys on both sides spend most of their time making sure they don’t offend the offender. This type of law takes away the voice of the one who has already suffered. It protects someone—who didn’t protect anyone in the first place—but allows the hurting to have to hurt more. Victims become a witness who cannot talk about anything more than a robotic story of an event that changed their life, without showing too much emotion on how much it still hurts. They have to sit silent, for however long that trial is postponed—and then again for however long it lasts. They feel forgotten, because quite frankly…they are. They become a victim again, to a system that has forgotten who deserves the protection.
What would you say to a voter, who may not be familiar with Marsy’s Law? Why should they consider voting for the measure when it goes to the ballot?
If I had the chance to speak to a voter, who didn’t understand Marsy’s Law, I would first explain what it is like to be a victim without a voice. I would help them understand that NO victim ever chose to be one, and sadly one day we all could be sitting on that side of a courtroom. I would share with them moments when I felt like I had no rights, and no voice, and how alone those months—and years—were for me.
What do you say to Idaho’s elected officials who are considering whether or not to support Marsy’s Law for Idaho?
To Idaho’s elected officials, I ask you to support Marsy’s Law. I ask you to see the victims…both past, present, and future…as people. See them as your own child, because someday it could be. I ask you to listen to their voices because they all have stories to tell. I ask you, the elected officials of Idaho, to protect the ones who need it the most. There are no words to describe that moment when you become the victim, there are no stories that can describe the immense pain that each of them holds. Please remember the voiceless souls who live in our state who want more than anything to feel protected, loved, and cared about…in a time when they fear nobody in the world ever will. Please, when you go to vote for anything, remember to vote for your people.
How do you feel Marsy’s Law would have helped in your particular situation?
In my story, I know Marsy’s Law would have changed some things.
The day our offender was granted bail, he was walking the streets before I even got the news. There are no words to describe the fear of a mother—standing in a public place for the first time, alone, trying to find a grief book for her babies—as she answers a phone call saying the man who shot her husband—in the head and heart—was let free. It had only been weeks. With Marsy’s Law, that girl would have a chance to share her voice, to feel like her fears were heard, and to choose to be part of each step of a journey, she never got to choose to be part of in the first place.
In the early years—waiting for the trial—I requested many times to be able to meet the man who shot the gun. It was never granted. I didn’t see his face until I was seated right in front of him at the jury selection.
During the trial, if victims had equal rights as offenders, I wouldn’t have had to listen to a month of how my murdered husband’s life was not worth anything. The prosecution slandered his name and used everything as evidence as to why he deserved to die. They didn’t treat anyone in that courtroom as a person—I felt like we were all more like movie characters they were talking about. But every time the tables were turned, and there was evidence of the accused—putting down his character—we were quickly on grounds for a mistrial.
Each day, I would go to the courtroom with a burning pit in my stomach, choking back tears—taught and trained to make sure I didn’t show any emotion…as to not sway the jury. Every measure was taken to make sure the victims did not act too human—even though it was their life that had been changed forever.
It is hard to sit silently while people talk about “victims and offenders”, because just like the accused wants to be seen as a real person…so do the victims.
Marsy’s Law will help future victims not have to go through what we have in the past. Victims need to have a voice in their own stories. They deserve to not spend years feeling like they are worthless, alone, and forgotten. I know my journey would have been a little lighter, had we been given the same rights as the man who shot those bullets.
I stand for change because I don’t want anyone else to be the victim of victimhood. We can—and we will—protect the ones who need protection. The broken who are hurting, and the souls who have never felt so alone…even when surrounded by a million eyes.
There are always going to be victims—hopefully not you—but say the day does find you…I hope you feel like you have the right to be protected. We cannot control what happens in our lives, in our states—in our countries—but we can decide how we will respond to those who need us most.