/ 13 June 2009

SA woman unveils guidebook for New Orleans crime survivors

A South African woman, whose husband and mother-in-law were murdered five years ago in New Orleans, has unveiled a free handbook for other ”survivors” of the city’s nation-leading homicide rate.

Gathered outside a café near the French Quarter on Friday, an eclectic crowd of prosecutors in suits, uptown civic activists and left-leaning activists in more casual attire, applauded Rose Preston after she read a passage aloud from her Crime Victims Guidebook: For Those Who Have Lost Their Loved Ones To Violence.

”I wrote it because I was looking for this book and I couldn’t find it,” Preston said.

In 2003, Preston, a dual citizen of the United States and South Africa, was visiting her hometown of Johannesburg when a caller informed her that the burned bodies of her husband, James Saporito, and mother-in-law, Patriana Saporito, were found inside the family’s New Orleans home.

Their throats were cut. The accused killer, an estranged tenant, died in jail in 2004. The suspect’s wife was accused of complicity in the crime but never tried.

Based on Preston’s frustrations with the local criminal justice system, the 128-page guidebook walks homicide survivors through various stages of emotional, practical and legal hurdles.

A drama professor, Preston met her husband and fellow academe James Saporito 20 years ago, when both were theater students at the University of New Orleans.

Despite several hundred homicides each year in New Orleans, a handbook to help families of the slain here had not been published and widely received, said Zully Jiminez, who retired in 2003 after nearly 30 years as a spokesperson for the local prosecutor’s office.

”You had to have somebody special like Rose to write it,” Jiminez said. ”Her involvement will change the lives of many other family members.”

Preston said when it comes to fears of violent crime, New Orleans and South Africa are very similar.

”South Africa is a beautiful country in trauma,” Preston said. ”New Orleans is a beautiful city in trauma.”

In addition to a resurgent violent crime rate, the city is still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina which flooded most of the city in 2005.

Using the most optimistic post-Katrina population estimate — 324 357 last year — New Orleans had 55 murders per 100 000 residents in 2008.

St Louis, Missouri posted the nation’s second-highest murder rate, 47 per 100 000, according to FBI figures for 2008, released last month. – Sapa-AFP