A newly designed web portal is now providing Multnomah County crime victims with unprecedented access to information about criminals in the system.
It's called Case Companion and it's said to be the first of its kind in the country.
One Portland woman's powerful story of survival and journey through the criminal justice system helped shape how the website was formed.
"It's my 11th bonus year," said Susan Walters.
Walters was attacked at home by a stranger armed with a hammer.
"He began hitting me, and I asked him, 'who are you, what do you want, get out of here,' and he didn't say anything, but continued to hit me,” she said.
Walters, then an ER nurse, was trained in self-defense and fought for her life.
"We were almost dancing, trying to see who can get the hammer, and then I grabbed his throat and said, 'you are not going to kill me in my own home,’” she said.
After a 14-minute struggle, Walters said she put her attacker in a chokehold and killed him. In the days that followed she learned she was the target of a murder-for-hire plot.
Her attacker was a hitman sent by her estranged husband Michael Kuhnhausen.
"If their plan had been successful, I would have died on September 6th, 2006," she said. "When I was at the one-year mark before his release, I imploded. I was distracted, I had trouble working, I was fearful, the return of the nightmares was devastating to me."
Walters was desperate for details surrounding Kuhnhausen's release. Instead, she says she was met with roadblocks.
"I called the parole board because I wanted to know every piece of information I had a right to know to help me do a risk assessment and make a safety plan before he was released. But, there was only one advocate for all of Oregon, and I didn't feel like I got the level of detail I needed,” she said.
"I think a lot of people, generally speaking, don't think about the experience of a victim until it's you, or someone you love," said Denise Pena, Multnomah County Community Justice manager.
Pena is now trying to bridge the divide in the state's fragmented support system for crime victims.
"The process doesn't end for a victim at conviction, it continues. The trauma, the safety concerns they have, it's been a really big oversight from the system as a whole to not put the same focus and support on the post-conviction side,” Pena said.
With help from the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, the Oregon Department of Corrections, the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision and a grant from Code for America, Case Companion was developed.
The specialized web portal is designed to keep victims better informed as a case works its way through the criminal justice system. Right now, it supports victims living in Multnomah County, but the hope is to eventually help people statewide.
"When we ask victims to be a part of our justice system we're asking them to give up control of their lives and how the process will go," said Pena. "I feel like treating victims with dignity and respect and information is the least we can possibly do for them."
Now at the click of a mouse, victims can look up an offender's status and access specific up-to-date information about that person's case from multiple agencies at the same time. The county consulted Walters and other crime victims on its design.
"We were able to identify some of the simple things that we can provide for victims in terms of information and support. An online platform, or road map if you will, for the process of the arrest, the criminal trial, the time they are in custody and most important for me, about their upcoming release," said Walters.
Ultimately, Kunhasen died behind bars three months shy of his release. Walters is no longer scared of another attack, though she knows other crime victims are. She's hopeful Case Companion will now ease those fears.
"Information is power and it's also comfort," she said. "If I had been able to access information to help me feel like I had a measure of control for how I need to prepare for his release it would have not been so difficult."
Now that Case Companion is officially up and running, Multnomah County administrators would love feedback from users. The product is always being tweaked to how it may best help the public.
For more information, go to casecompanion.org.
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