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Mom would still trade worthy cause for daughter's life

DOTHAN (AP) — On a cold evening in Birmingham 30 years ago, a recent college graduate volunteered to go buy salad dressing for a party on campus. Leaving the nearby convenience store, she was abducted.

Her nude, frozen, bullet-riddled body was found the next evening.

The trip to the store on Dec. 20, 1976, ended with the murder of Quenette Shehane, but it would mark the start of the victims' rights movement in Alabama, a crusade led by her mother, Miriam Shehane of Clio.

Easing the pain

Victims of Crime and Leniency, or VOCAL, was organized in 1982 after Miriam Shehane had begun to find that the overwhelming pain of her daughter's killing was compounded by her experience as the three men charged in her abduction, rape and murder were tried in court — twice each for two of the men, three times for the third.

During the five years after the murder, she had to relieve the agonizing testimony in seven trials. She didn't want others to endure the same and began tirelessly lobbying for laws aimed at helping the families of victims of crimes.

Despite all her success in easing the pain of others, three decades have not lessened her loss.

"It's not worth it," she told The Dothan Eagle in a recent interview. "I'd rather have my daughter back."

Quenette Shehane, 21, had graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a degree in elementary education. She had visited her family in Clio and was back on campus for a party with friends. She would soon be enrolling in graduate school at Auburn University and looked forward to a career teaching.

Justice served?

But around 5 p.m., with darkness falling, she was abducted in the parking lot of the convenience store, her car loaded with Christmas presents was stolen, and her life was taken.

After the seven trials, the man believed to have pulled the trigger, Wallace Norell Thomas, was sentenced to death and executed in 1990. Eddie Bernard Neal was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Jerry Lee Jones, convicted three times, had his death sentence commuted and is eligible for parole again in 2008.

"I hope I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Miriam Shehane told the Eagle, reflecting on her work with VOCAL. "When I got started in all of this, I wanted to make sense out of (Quenette's murder). But after going through all of the trials, there is no sense to be made."

She championed new laws that gave all Alabama prosecutors one-for-one strikes with defense lawyers in picking juries, allowed victims to be in the courtroom even if they are to testify, allowed victims or their family to sit at the prosecutors' table, required victims and/or family members to be notified of parole hearings for their assailants, and created a victim's compensation fund.

But Dec. 20 returns each year.

"I wish I could go to sleep the night after Thanksgiving and wake up after Christmas," she said. "I try to put on a good face for my other children and my grandchildren."

She wants that day 30 years ago Wednesday to end so differently. But instead, she crusades for legislation and spends time with victims' families, attending parole hearings, trials and funerals. District Attorney Doug Valeska calls her "Mother Miriam." She says it keeps Quenette alive.


Information from: The Dothan Eagle

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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