Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
This month we observe National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. I have been an advocate for victims since my early days as a Harris County prosecutor. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Washington was to establish a bipartisan Victims’ Rights Caucus to advocate on behalf of victims in our nation’s capitol. The consequences of devastating crimes stay with the victim for the rest of their lives. Long after the headlines change, the victims’ stories read the same.
One such story that affected me personally and has made its way through my career as a prosecutor, Judge and Congressman was the murder of 14-month-old Kevin Wanstrath. The case had all the twist and turns of a high sensational television movie and was the subject of many a magazine article and even a book. But despite the media circus that surrounded the case, it was the senseless murder of Kevin that really hit home for me. He was the same age as my son, Kurt. Kurt is a big ole strapping boy now and yes, I still call him my boy. At times I look at my son Kurt and wonder what could have happened and how Kevin could have turned out. I keep Kevin’s photograph in my office in Washington, it has been on every desk in every office I have ever had since the murder.
In July of 1979, greed led to the murders of three innocent people. Markham Duff-Smith plotted the murder of his adoptive sister, Diana Wanstrath, her husband, John, and their 14-month-old son, Kevin. On a warm weekday about springtime, two killers posing as real estate agents forced their way into the Wanstrath’s home and shot John and Diana in the head. Then Kevin, a 14-month-old baby, was shot in the head as he was cuddled up with his favorite teddy bear.
There was little or no evidence of “who done it.” The Medical Examiner ruled that Diana killed her husband, Kevin and then herself. But through the relentless persistence of two Houston police officers that wouldn’t give up, Johnny Bonds and Dan McAnulty, the case was broken, a murder-for-hire plot was revealed and I was assigned to prosecute the killers.
Duff-Smith and triggerman Allen Wayne Janecka were sentenced to death, both have been executed. The third accomplice, Walter Waldhauser, Jr., received three 30-year consecutive sentences, but was paroled after serving only 9 years. Waldhauser continued to wreak havoc on society. He changed his name to Michael Lee Smith and was eventually sent back to prison for Life for swindling terminal ill AIDS patients out of all their money. I testified at his sentencing.
As a prosecutor and a judge for 22 years, I handled over 25,000 felonies. I have seen criminals from all walks of life. Markham Duff-Smith was from a wealthy family, the finest upbringing. He and Janecka have had to stand before their maker and account for their crimes, one day Waldhauser will as well. But it is families that are left behind that are really serving the life sentence. Too often in this country we have become the land of excusable conduct. We blame crime on everyone and everything but the criminal. The victims are the real people whose lives were stolen from them by the vicious violent acts of others.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is a time for us to reflect on the priorities in our lives. For me, it is one of the obligations I took on as your Representative in Congress – to stand up and advocate for victims, to do what is right, and to be your voice and the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves.
As a nation we are not judged by the way we treat the rich and the important folks, we are judged by the way we treat the innocent, the weak, the unfortunate, the elderly and the children.
And that’s just the way it is.