16 year old Nielsa Mason was murdered on April 28, 1997. At the sentencing of the killer, Judge Rushton Ridgeway denied her mother Kathryn’s request to show to him at sentencing a photo of her daughter. This denial resulted in the passage of Nielsa’s law. Subsequently, the Appellate Division threw out the killer’s confession. The retrial is pending.
In May 2007, the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center and the Cumberland County Prosecutor filed motions to the trial judge to permit Nielsa’s parents and brother to wear a small picture of her during the trial. The following excerpts are from Kathryn’s certification filed with the court.
- During the first trial, the crime scene photos were shown to the jury during the trial. To this day I still feel the anguish of having seen these pictures of my daughter at the trial. I know these photos had the same effect on my husband Daniel, my son Phillip and Nielsa’s two grandparents.
- After Peter Henriques was convicted of murder, I requested permission to show a picture of Nielsa to the judge at sentencing. The judge denied the request. With the sentencing a few days away, an immediate appeal was taken; however the appellate court would not hear the case. A further appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Several weeks after the Supreme Court denied our petition for certification. I was told that our claim was “moot” because the judge had already sentenced my daughter’s killer.
- At the sentencing I stood before the judge and delivered my victim impact statement. Nearby was my daughter’s photograph, hidden in a paper bag.
- At the time I questioned: “This case is about my daughter’s murder but her beautiful face has never been allowed in the courtroom. How can Nielsa’s picture hurt anyone?’ On December 23, 1999 “Nielsa’s Law” took effect. The law permitted a homicide survivor to display to the sentencing judge a photo of the victim when she was alive.
- It is now 10 years since my daughter’s death. Once again we will be required to sit quietly through this terrible slow motion replay of the murder of our child. We will be there because we must be there for our daughter.
- It is so important to my family and me that during this public trial Nielsa’s face be in the courtroom; not her beaten face, but the beautiful face that keeps her spirit alive in all those who knew and loved her.
- And I ask once again; "How can Nielsa’s picture hurt anyone?"