In the days following the shooting death of Jackie Wisniewski inside an Erie County Medical Center stairwell last June, her family was besieged by CNN, “Good Morning America” and other media outlets to tell the story of her being stalked and gunned down by her estranged boyfriend.
The family rejected those requests, preferring to mourn privately.
But Tuesday morning, about a dozen family members and advocates stood proudly behind State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, as he announced proposed legislation that could have made a difference in the stalking that led to her fatal shooting.
The legislation, called Jackie’s Law, would allow police to file felony charges against anyone who installs a GPS tracking device to stalk another person.
“By getting this law passed, by telling Jackie’s story publicly and courageously with the help of Jackie’s family, we will save lives across the state,” Kennedy said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
David Wisniewski, Jackie’s brother, explained why her family – including her parents, Daniel and Kristine – has agreed to tell that story now.
Family members thought about it, and they realized that if the roles were reversed, that if another relative had been killed and Jackie had survived, she wouldn’t have been shy about coming forward.
“She was a bulldog in that regard,” David Wisniewski said after the news conference. “Nothing would stop her from telling people about us. This is my penance, maybe.”
He had to stop briefly and compose himself when asked what his sister would say about the family’s public support Tuesday for the new legislation.
“She would be proud that we’re helping the next person,” he replied.
Since her stalker, Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr., shot her to death last June 13, Jackie Wisniewski’s family has learned a lot about the extent of the stalking, including the dozens and dozens of electronic messages Jorden sent her and even the fact that she kept a hammer under her pillow out of fear. After Jorden shot her to death, he later took his own life with the same gun.
Family members also have learned about the tracking device he installed in her vehicle, allowing him to show up regularly wherever she was, unannounced and uninvited, before she discovered the device in March 2012.
She went to the West Seneca police with the GPS device, but David Wisniewski explained after the news conference why she must have decided not to press charges.
“Is she setting off the ticking time bomb?” he asked, referring to her mindset. “Is this going to send him over the edge, to further violence?”
But he was quick to add, “You can never second-guess the choices a victim makes.”
Nobody knows whether the proposed Jackie’s Law could have helped its namesake, but it would have allowed West Seneca police to pursue the stalking crime.
Under the proposed law, use of a GPS device to stalk a person would be added to the actions that already constitute the crime of second-degree unlawful surveillance. That’s a Class E felony that can result in a prison sentence of up to four years.
And the victim wouldn’t have to press charges.
“This legislation allows law enforcement to prosecute perpetrators of the crime of unlawful surveillance without requiring the victim to seek an order of protection or file charges,” said Kennedy.
Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of the Family Justice Center, called the proposed law “another tool in the toolbox” against domestic abuse and violence. And she wasn’t talking just about the victims.
“I think there are many law enforcement officers who do have the fire in their belly for this issue,” she said. “They get frustrated when victims don’t move forward to press charges. This not only gives victims another tool, this gives law enforcement another tool.”
Kennedy was asked why he expects this legislation to pass both State Legislature chambers when some other laws named for crime victims have stalled, especially in the Assembly.
Some of those proposals have included increased penalties that legislators may not support, he suggested. Jackie’s Law, though, just keeps pace with improved technology used by stalkers to track their victims.
“It simply amends the law, with the same penalties that currently exist, to include the GPS stalking,” he said.
And it wouldn’t have happened without the family’s agreeing to go public.
“Jackie’s family asks us to name this law after her,” Kennedy said, “and we are proud to do that.”