Mother of murder victim denied reimbursements from state

Investigations

BURNET, Texas (KXAN) — It’s the first thing Karen Freeman sees when she wakes up. Pictures of her daughter on her nightstand and on the wall right in front of her bed. 

Crosses with Tabitha Evon Freeman’s name hang not too far and right on her dresser sits a shiny urn with her daughter’s ashes. Some nights Freeman says she sleeps with the urn just so she can feel closer to Tabitha. 

“I won’t see her graduate,” says Freeman. “I won’t ever be the mom of the bride. I won’t ever be a grandmother.”

Tabitha, 22, was shot and killed in 2013 in San Angelo. Her mom says she was at a friends apartment when there was a fight and then gunfire, “She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Police arrested Johnny Garcia and Daniel Uvalle and charged them both with capital murder. They were convicted and sentenced.

Freeman says the emotional trauma has been so great that she’s had to start seeing a psychiatrist regularly. She now also takes medication including Prozac and Xanax. The state covered the cost which was about $250 a month through the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.

It was created in 1979 and is managed by the Office of the Attorney General to help crime victims and their immediate families cover the cost of counseling, medical treatment, funeral and loss of income.

Freeman says she stopped getting reimbursements last July. She showed KXAN Investigator Arezow Doost the last letter she received. It says, “unfortunately, we are unable to consider those bills for payment due to the reason listed.” Freeman says what she doesn’t understand is why and she points out that the letter did not include that information.

“I sent in what they asked for and they still ‘no I need this or I need that’ or just deny me for no reason and it just adds to the frustration,” explains Freeman. “It’s extremely exhausting so when you’re promised one thing and then denied what you’ve been promised by your elected officials, and government department that’s supposed to care for you, it’s even more frustrating.”

Freeman says she’s been denied reimbursements every year since 2017. A state performance report from the Department of Justice says that recently in a single year the state approved more than 19,000 applications, but it denied almost 11,000 applications for compensation. The reasons range from incomplete information, an ineligible crime or an ineligible application. Other applications were denied for failing to cooperate with police, misconduct or failure to report to the police. 

Doost asked the Attorney General’s office why Freeman was denied, but a spokesperson says they are not able to comment on individual cases. The spokesperson did provide information regarding the program from the Office of the Attorney General’s website. 

Freeman has appealed in the past and was eventually reimbursed. “I just don’t have the energy for that fight anymore. Grief it’s just too… it’s just too exhausting just trying exist day to day.”

The Crime Victim Services annual report shows that in 2019 the program received more than 34,000 applications and awarded $72.1 million to or on behalf of crime victims.  There was a 26% increase of applications after an online portal was launched in September of 2018. The Program is funded through a number of sources including state court costs, restitution from offenders ordered to reimburse the fund, and donations from jurors.

Freeman says the process needs to be simplified. The home health nurse is now working overtime so she can keep paying for her medications and psychiatrist.

“The comfort, if there is any comfort in a situation like this, it’s not the comfort that it should be,” says Freeman “It’s more of a fight and a continual hassle and I just can’t do it anymore.”

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