The murder of a road-tripping British tourist named Thomas Reeve in an Amarillo bar last fall shattered his close-knit family and left his infant daughter without a father. Now, his parents’ efforts to claim financial assistance from the state’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund have been rebuffed — because their son was not a United States resident.
“We have had nothing but genuine sympathy and understanding from everyone we have dealt with in Amarillo and Texas,” says Maggie Reeve, the victim’s mother. “But — and it is a huge but — despite the fact that my son was doing absolutely nothing wrong, his daughter will lose out all her life unless we can get some compensation for her.”
Texas’ Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, established in 1979 and operated by the Texas attorney general, collects court costs and other fees from convicted offenders to reimburse victims and their families for crime-related expenses that are not covered by insurance. The funding — a maximum of $50,000 per victim, in most cases — can be used to cover funeral expenses, attend counseling or care for a helpless dependent, among other costs.
Reeve’s parents believe their family should qualify. Their 28-year-old son was shot dead in November 2009 by a deranged armed robber while he sipped soda in a bar in Amarillo, a town he visited on his way from California to Florida because of his affinity for the Tony Christie song “Is This the Way to Amarillo.” He left behind his 9-month-old daughter, Tabitha. His killer is serving life in prison.
But Texas requires a victim to be a resident of Texas or another state or U.S. territory to qualify for the funding. Even illegal immigrants qualify if they’ve been residing in Texas. Despite pleas from Reeve’s family and a visit to Austin by an official with the British Consulate-General in Houston, the Texas attorney general’s office says it is prohibited by state law from granting the award.
“That is a question for the Legislature,” said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott. Strickland called the case “heart-wrenching.”
Brian Millin, Reeve’s stepfather, who raised him from the age of 8, called Texas’ policy discriminatory. He said Britain offers compensation for crime victims regardless of their nationality. He has also reached out to dozens of states since Reeve’s death, and he said they overwhelmingly offer funding for foreign nationals, including tourists. (Officials from California and Florida, for example, both told The Texas Tribune they offer compensation to foreign visitors.)
“We are disappointed that the legislators passed such a poor law,” Millin said. “We as a family will ensure that Tabitha knows about her dad and that she gets all the love and support she needs. But we still feel that she is being let down by Texas.”
State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, said it may be time for the Legislature to make a change. “I hate to see anyone who is a victim of crime — particularly someone who is an innocent bystander — not get compensation,” he said. “Of all the priorities we have on the list for this session, I don’t think this is No. 1, but it may very well be something worthwhile to do.”
Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said that if the Legislature takes up the issue, the governor will “thoughtfully review” it.