Rhode Island’s Lack of Domestic Terrorism Victim Compensation

by Carolina de la Pedraja – On April 15, 2013, the United States was shaken by yet another act of terrorism. The two bombs that went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that morning killed three spectators and wounded more than 260 others. Although this was an act of domestic terrorism, investigators concluded that the perpetrators performed and executed these acts strictly on their own and were not connected to a terrorist organization. Four days after the bombings there was a citywide manhunt that shut down the Boston area in search of the suspects. The perpetrators were brothers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who spent part of their childhoods in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, but lived for about a decade in the United States before the bombings occurred. The elder brother, Tamerlan, died following a shootout with law enforcement, and the younger brother, Dzhokhar, faced trial in November of 2014. Federal prosecutors moved for the death penalty and on June 24, 2015 Dzhokhar was officially sentenced to death, making him the youngest person on federal death row.

The victims of this horrible crime were compensated a combined total of $60.1 million on June 28, 2013 through a charity fund that was established after the bombings. The lump sum, tax-free payments were awarded to the victims regardless of income or medical expenses, and the recipients did not have to relinquish their right to sue by accepting the compensation. The fund was designed to help victims, some of whom will have a lifetime of medical costs. Although this fund has helped the families and victims affected by this heinous crime tremendously, not all victims received compensation.

This week, Rhode Island lawmakers “moved forward on legislation to make victims of terrorist attacks eligible for compensation even if the attack happened outside the state.” Prior to this, Rhode Island’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund only awarded funds to victims of violent crimes that happened within the state of Rhode Island. So for Heather Abbott, a Rhode Island resident who lost part of her leg because of the Boston Marathon bombing, this Compensation Fund was no help. When Abbott applied for the Fund in the summer following the attacks, the federal government had yet to formally declare the Boston bombing as an act of terrorism, which would have been the only way Abbott would have been compensated for losing her leg under Rhode Island law; therefore, she was denied. The conflict includes language that only encompasses victims of acts of terrorism occurring outside the United States or within the state of Rhode Island, but not acts that occur in other U.S. states. The bill changes the language by adding “or within the United States” to include victims of domestic terrorism in other states as well.

Last month the House voted unanimously to pass the bill, and a Senate committee voted Tuesday to move it to the full Senate. The sponsor of the bill is Senate President Teresa Paive Weed, a Newport Democrat, who commented before Tuesday’s hearing that the Boston Marathon “was an act of domestic terrorism that shook all of New England.” That being said, all who were affected by the Boston Marathon bombing should be eligible to apply for compensation, regardless of where they reside. The best possible scenario would be to pass the legislation, fix the loophole in the law, and pray that no one ever has to use it.

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