12/20/09 — Former cop will assist witnesses and victims

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Former cop will assist witnesses and victims

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on December 20, 2009 1:50 AM

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Graham Keesler is pictured inside a courtroom at the Wayne County Superior Courthouse.

A new federal grant is helping keep victims of crime and witnesses called to testify in their cases separate in Wayne County courtrooms.

The grant money is paying for a court position, a "victim witness legal assistant," who works with the District Attorney's office to help both victims and witnesses keep calm before, during and after the court sessions.

The position existed last year, but the stimulus grant has provided a new source of funding and a new person has taken over the job.

Former Goldsboro police Capt. Grayham Keesler, who retired from active duty in October, has taken the job.

District Attorney Branny Vickory said Keesler's long-term relationship with many police officers is proving to be a big asset in the job. Keesler spent 25 years on the Goldsboro police force. In many cases, the key witnesses in a case is a law enforcement officer whose time is limited and needs to be able to testify and then get back to work.

"I think he will be a terrific aid to best utilize an officer's time. They're witnesses also," Vickory said.

In his first few days on the job, Keesler said he was doing exactly that.

"Basically, all I've been doing all week is running down officers, and doing a few subpoenas to try and get people in court," Keesler said.

He said he realizes that the responsibilities of the job likely will expand.

"I've only spent three days on it, but it's in the courtroom, it's hands on," Keesler said. "It's mainly assisting the victims, and assisting the (district attorney) to where they can do their job."

Kathy Calhoun, the District Attorney's office employee who applied for the grant, said the position can become extremely important in emotional cases.

Calhoun, who has also acted as a bailiff, said one important part of Keesler's job is keeping the alleged victims and defendants separate from one another during proceedings.

"What we are attempting to do is make sure the victims that go into district court, to make sure they have assistance," Mrs. Calhoun said. "Not everybody will go running up to the district attorney and tell them what they need and everything else."

According to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the operation of all district and superior courts in the state, victim witness legal assistants may attend court with victims, field phone calls about cases and perform administrative work with court records, including restitution complaints and informing victims of their rights.

Keesler said he is up to the task, and Mrs. Calhoun said his Kinston-based counterpart, victim witness legal assistant Denike Davis, is doing a good job there as well. Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties are all part of the same judicial district and Vickory's office oversees prosecutions in all three.

Keesler said his new job reminds him a lot of his old one.

"Really, it's not that much different from being a captain," he said. "You're usually taking complaints from people about what's going on.

"You're either trying to help them, or trying to get them a resource that can assist them in getting them help."