By Tim Farley
EL RENO – Sarah Burdine will never stop wanting justice for her 23-year-old son who was shot and killed almost seven years ago at a Spencer sports bar.
Unfortunately, the case remains unsolved, but Burdine remains committed to finding the killer.
Burdine, with dozens of other people, attended Monday’s Crime Victims’ Vigil at the Canadian County courthouse in El Reno. After a keynote speech by crime victims Judy and Kendall Swartz, Burdine and others shared their stories during a portion of the program entitled “Open Speak Out.”
During those few moments, Burdine said she and her 18-year-old daughter are “doing this together” as they continue grieving the loss of their son and brother Ciar Pierce.
“It gets different,” she said, referring to the length of time since the killing. “If I had my way I wouldn’t get out of bed, but I have kids and grand kids to keep raising.”
Burdine has also learned through her role as vice president of the Oklahoma Homicide Survivors Support Group that life moves on, but the agony of losing a loved one never dissipates.
“It helps you when you’re helping others through their storm,” she said as her daughter looked on.
During the past seven years, Burdine and her children have challenged investigators with the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office to solve the case, but so far there’s been no breaks in the case. About 200 people witnessed the killing at Shaker’s Sports Club at NE 23rd and Spencer Road. However, no one came forward with knowledge of the shooter.
Later, lawmen made an arrest in the case, but a confidential informant was not deemed credible by prosecutors and formal charges were never filed, Burdine said.
Burdine wasn’t the only person who believes justice was denied in the killing of a family member. Lauren Layman, president of the homicide survivors support group, talked about her great grandmother’s slaying in May 1983. The case remained unsolved until 2011 when a man was arrested by U.S. marshals in Phoenix, Ariz. The defendant, identified as Lester Blackbear, died in prison before he was tried for Ola Kirk’s death, causing Layman to believe she and her family were denied justice.
In his introductory remarks at Monday’s ceremony, Canadian County District Attorney Mike Fields told the crowd the victims’ rights movement has “come a long way” the past 30 years.
“All 50 states have crime victims laws and offenders are required to pay for services rendered to victims,” he said. “The vigil gives us an opportunity to look back at how far we’ve come, but it also motivates and inspires us to do more. There are many crime victims who are struggling and there are many more who haven’t come forward. Crime Victims Rights Week is one way to raise the level of awareness to the plight of victims.”
During the last three decades, victims have been given more protection and several new rights, the DA said.
In November 2018, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 794 (also known as Marsy’s Law) which created new constitutional rights and protections for victims of crime. Victims and advocates are working in support of state House Bill 1102, which seeks to fully implement Marsy’s Law by aligning state statute with victims’ rights now in the state constitution.
The new constitutional rights include expanding the court hearings victims have a right to be heard, adding a right to reasonable protection, right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, a right to talk with the prosecutor and allowing victims to refuse interview requests from the defendant without a subpoena.
The constitution now would give victims the right to be notified of the defendant’s release or escape from custody. Under SQ 794, victims would have all of these rights in adult and juvenile proceedings. Victims’ rights would be protected in a manner equal to the rights of the defendants and victims would be able to assert these rights in court and the judge would be required to act promptly.
As a longtime prosecutor, Fields sympathized with the victims of all crimes.
“Crime can change someone’s life in an instant,” he said. “There are so many crime victims who find themselves on difficult journeys that were not of their choosing. They were victimized and all too often, they feel isolated and alone. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week gives us an opportunity to let them know there is help and hope.”
This year’s theme is “Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future.”
Keynote speakers Judy and Kendall Swartz spoke about their near-death experience when a man driving under the influence of drugs struck their vehicle. The couple talked about the extensive injuries they suffered in the accident and how the incident changed their lives forever.