For nine months, the family and friends of tow-truck operator William Houck attended every court hearing for the man who killed him in a drunken-driving crash.

For nine months, the family and friends of tow-truck operator William Houck attended every court hearing for the man who killed him in a drunken-driving crash.

When they finally got a chance to speak in a Franklin County courtroom last month, they spent most of the time talking about how dedicated Houck had been to his family and his work. They tried to find forgiveness for Thomas G. Frederick, who pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, but spoke mostly of what he took from them when he chose to drive with three times the amount of alcohol in his system at which a motorist is presumed to be impaired.

“I can’t bring myself to hate (Frederick), but I hate his choice,” said Jessica Houck, one of the victim’s daughters, as Frederick sat and listened.

She and another daughter, as well as their mother and Houck’s boss, spoke at the sentencing hearing on June 28 in Common Pleas Court. Frederick received the maximum prison sentence of eight years and six months from Judge Richard S. Sheward.

The statements in court were “a big closure item” for the family, Katheryn Neudecker, the daughters’ mother, said after the hearing. “This was just as important as his funeral.”

By speaking at the sentencing, they were exercising a right guaranteed in an amendment to the state constitution that Ohio voters approved in 1994. The so-called victims’ bill of rights mandates that crime victims be kept informed about developments in their case and grants them an opportunity to make victim-impact statements to the sentencing judge.

The statements often are emotional. Some victims want to angrily confront the person responsible for the crime. A few offer messages of forgiveness.Many urge the judge to impose the maximum penalty. Still others are too afraid, intimidated or grief-stricken to speak in court or are unavailable for the hearing and submit statements.

Even if the judge isn’t swayed or is locked into a mandatory sentence, the statements can be therapeutic for victims or their families, said Jane McKenzie, the director of the Franklin County prosecutor’s victim-witness assistance unit.

“It gives the victim a chance to have a say,” she said. “It may be the first time they’ve had a chance to open their mouths in court. I don’t tend to use the word closure, but it helps them deal with what they’re going through.”

Lora Eberhard, who spoke at the sentencing hearings for three of the four people involved in the 2001 murder of her son, felt obligated to speak on his behalf.

“It’s a great opportunity to make your loved one’s voice be heard,” she said. “The victim gets lost in the trial and other court proceedings. It’s a way to humanize him.”

Eberhard’s son, Andrew Dotson, was 20 when he was killed with a pickax in a Prairie Township cornfield. Four people plotted his death because he witnessed a shooting. Two were convicted after trials, and two pleaded guilty.

Among the things that Eberhard tried to communicate in her statements to judges and defendants was the devastation experienced by everyone in her son’s life.

“I didn’t want them to lose sight of the ripple effect on a whole string of people,” she said. “ The web of impact is unbelievable.”

She doesn’t think her words influenced the sentences and still wonders whether such statements have any impact on judges’ decisions.

Common Pleas judges in Franklin County said the statements can make a difference.

“They are important, but they are one of a variety of factors,” Judge Mark Serrott said.

“As judges, we’re supposed to be non-emotional, but the statements do have an emotional impact on me, especially in violent crimes. I’m a human being. Sometimes I have to take a step back or take a break to make sure I’m not imposing a sentence based on emotion but based on statutory factors. “I can’t impose a sentence because I’m upset or angry about what the defendant did.”

Judge Julie M. Lynch recalled a rape case in which a 10-year-old victim told her she wanted the attacker “to hurt as much as he hurt me.”

“That victim statement truly had weight,” Lynch said.

Judge Daniel T. Hogan said he has so much information about each case that he usually enters the courtroom with “a general sense” of the sentence he’ll impose.

“But things happen that cause me to stray, up or down, depending on what I hear,” he said.

What’s most important, Hogan said, is for victims to “walk away with the feeling that they had input and it was considered. Hopefully, they feel they could give their 2 cents and someone listened.”