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Families Who Have Worked to Overcome Tragedy Receive Award From Attorney General

Attorney General Janet Reno Wednesday honored the families of crime victims in a ceremony that coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. 

"Today we honor some extraordinarily wonderful individuals and some effective and thoughtful organizations who have provided help and hope for victims," she said. "We remember the lives that have been lost and damaged by crime and we dedicate ourselves to a future free from violence." 

Reno spoke before about 120 people at the Crime Victims Service Award ceremony. The award, presented to those who have provided outstanding service to crime victims, is part of the National Crime Victim's Rights week, now in its 20th year. 

The nine award recipients this year were noted for assistance in helping abandoned children, victims of domestic, elderly and child abuse, hate crimes, and aid to families of the Pan Am 103 plane crash over Lockerbie, Scotland. 

Honorees included the family of James Byrd, Jr., who was dragged to his death from the back of a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, in July 1998. The Byrd family has since established a foundation in which family members travel around the country to speak with groups about hate crimes. 

Byrd's brother Thurman Byrd accepted the award on his family's behalf. Judy and Dennis Shepard of Caspar, Wyo., also received an award. Their son Matthew's death sparked national attention in October 1998 after it was learned that Matthew was strung to a fence and beaten because he was openly homosexual. He died six days later. 

Reno was accompanied by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who has been involved with the family members of victims of the Pan-Am 103 crash over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Two Scottish officials who aided in the crash investigation, for which two Libyan secret servicemen face criminal charges, were also among the honorees. 

"I've tried to help in my own way, by working with the victims' family members to achieve some justice in the case. This is no easy task, considering the difficulties of extraditing the two suspects and overcoming the additional obstacles involved in bringing them to trial," Lautenberg said at the event. 

Two hundred and seventy people died in the crash, including 189 Americans and 11 people on the ground. The two men accused of the crime, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, will go on trial May 3 in the Netherlands. 

The two are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, murder and contravention of the British Aviation Security Act, and will be tried under Scottish law, where they face life imprisonment. Scottish law does not have a death penalty. 

Libyan leader Moammar Qhadafi agreed to extradite the two suspects only if they were not tried in Scotland. After the bombing on December 21, 1988, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Libya until Qhadafi agreed to turn over the suspects two years ago. The United States continues to impose sanctions on Libya, which remains on the State Department's list of nations sponsoring terrorism. 

Scottish law also forbids cameras in the courtroom, but the empaneled judges agreed to allow video of the trial for viewing by family members of the victims. Lautenberg secured funding during supplemental appropriations last fall that allowed the Justice Department to pay for the families to watch the trial. 

Viewing areas will be set up in New York City, Washington, D.C., London and Dumfries, Scotland.