After the Crash

When victims' rights advocate Pam Lychner and her daughters died on TWA Flight 800, her husband knew what he had to do: Find justice for Pam.

To Pam and Joe, their family no longer seemed perfect, but vulnerable. Pam began spending more time inside the house, keeping the curtains drawn. Sometimes Joe would call home and get no answer. Worried that Kelley had gotten free on bail and had come seeking revenge, he'd tear out of his office and race home to check on Pam and the girls. Eventually he bought Pam a cellular phone, so he could always reach her.

He worried when she went out at night with her friends; she didn't want him to travel. He cut back at work, leaving a job as vice president of a control-systems company to go back into direct sales, so he'd have more time at home. They bought a massive security system, including a radar "dog" that barked whenever someone approached the door. When Joe heard the slightest sound at night, he patrolled the house, clutching a handgun. He taught Pam to shoot. When he came home at night, he was careful to call, "It's me."

Pam lectured her friend Kim on safety: "The unknown is what's going to get you."

Joe was furious to find out that Kelley, a fourth-time offender, had been out on early release. The other victims, Joe thought, hadn't seen the case through the system -- they'd refused to testify, or had allowed Kelley to negotiate a plea bargain. When Joe and Pam tried to contact them, they said they were afraid to come forward at the trial. Joe vowed to do better, to keep Kelley off the streets.

Before the attack, Joe and Pam hadn't known the difference between civil and criminal court, but they began to educate themselves about the legal system. The day after the attack, Pam couldn't bear to attend the arraignment, but Joe sat in the front row. Kelley wouldn't look at him.

Pam began to attend the hearings. Kelley appeared stoic in the courtroom, but jailers told Joe and Pam that he "went nuts" back in the holding cell. More than ever, they wanted him behind bars.

They agreed to accept Kelley's plea bargain: 20 years for aggravated kidnapping with intent to commit sex assault. The deal was a tradeoff: The prosecutor said he could go for life, but given the way sentences worked, a 20-year sentence might last longer. Kelley would have to serve at least a quarter of it.

A month after Kelley went to prison, the Lychners received a handwritten lawsuit. Kelley was suing them for the pain and suffering he'd undergone during the fight with Joe. Pam and Joe felt more nervous than ever. The suit, they realized, was ridiculous. But clearly Kelley remembered them and wanted revenge.

On a morning soon afterward, Pam called Joe at work to say that they'd received another letter, this one from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Kelley was being reviewed as a candidate for early release. Joe told Pam that he'd come home at lunch. He expected to find her crying, hiding in a dark corner.

Instead, Pam was charging around the kitchen, furious, waving the letter and cursing. "I'm sick and tired of cowering to this guy!" she said. "I'm gonna blast him with both barrels!"

She called the mayor's office for crime victims services and talked to its director, Andy Kahan. He told her how to write a protest letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles -- and Kahan, a victims' rights crusader, recruited her to his cause. She began showing up at hearings, supporting crime victims, explaining the ins and outs of a system she'd learned the hard way.

At a trial, she met Dianne Clements, whose 13-year-old son had been shot and killed by a neighbor's son a year before. Like Pam, Dianne counseled and coached victims -- and like Pam, she believed the criminal justice system needed to be reformed. Pam told Dianne, I'm really mad, and I want to meet other people who are fed up. Dianne thought, Who are you, lady?

In 1993, they found their first cause in Gary Graham, whose scheduled execution had drawn high-profile protests from Hollywood. Of course he deserved to die, Pam thought. Who were these Californians, and what did they know about justice? She proposed holding an anti-Graham rally at Tranquillity Park.

Yeah, right, said Dianne.
A three-day rally, said Pam. Over three weekends.
Oh my God, thought Dianne. Who's going to come?

They sent out press releases, and Pam explained her mission on the evening news. TV served her well: Articulate, emotional and sure of herself, she was the blond embodiment of suburban fear of crime. Hers was the face people would come to associate with the issue. Hundreds of people attended the rally; it received widespread media coverage; and suddenly Dianne and Pam's dream had a mailing list.

They named their group Justice For All, and Joe drew up the rules by which it would be governed. At its first meeting, 50 people gathered at the River Cafe. Pam was elected president, Dianne vice president. They lobbied legislators to be tough on crime, to repeal mandatory release laws, to register sex offenders, to build more prisons. Pam and Dianne organized marches, and held up protest signs at intersections.

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