Chatham Assistant DA to focus on crimes against women

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - A shuffling of resources in the Chatham District Attorney's Office is putting an experienced prosecutor into a role to focus specifically on crimes against women in our community.

Chatham District Attorney Meg Heap says prosecuting domestic violence and rape cases against women can be some of the toughest her team comes up against, because they're not only battling the defendant, they're also sometimes at odds with the victim.

"Because they're very reluctant and/or do not want to prosecute, but we do prosecute because a crime has occurred," Heap said.

With personnel changes in her office, Heap is shifting a prosecutor with experience in domestic violence cases to a role that focuses solely on crimes against women. That includes domestic violence cases and rape. Assistant District Attorney Maggie Deleon, a five-year veteran of the office, has a background in working domestic violence cases, primarily involving children and the elderly.

For the last month-and-a-half, Deleon has been preparing for her new role. She says she chose this path in law because of the lasting impact breaking the cycle of domestic violence can have on families and the ability that can have on preventing future crime.

"I've already been making that transition because it's a large caseload and it's a serious caseload, so the earlier I can dive into it, the better. In domestic violence cases, you really establish a connection, and you can really see the difference you make over time, especially when a case that you've been involved with, that person hasn't reoffended, and maybe the family violence counseling has worked," Deleon said. "Certainly, in sexual assault cases, you're dealing with a very serious type of major felony that has some very serious consequences, not only for the defendant but also for the victim and the community, so I believe taking a look at those certainly, and making sure those cases are ready to go to trial because the majority of these cases do go to trial."

Heap's team of prosecutors regularly work with victim advocates as a case makes its way through the court system, like Safe Shelter.

"There are a lot of things involved getting the case from the crime into the courtroom for the prosecution. You've got to have everybody on the same page," said Cheryl Branch, Director, Safe Shelter.

Branch says all the agencies work well together and strive to provide victims with a way out. Rape numbers are up in Savannah-Chatham Metro's jurisdiction compared to the previous two years, and Safe Shelter's occupancy is beyond capacity, with 24 women and 33 children.

For more information, visit the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire and Safe Shelter.

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