Victim's rights advocate dies

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A woman who pioneered the victim's rights movement in Alaska after her parents were murdered died at her Anchorage home Friday after a fight with a rare disease.

Janice Lienhart, 62, died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, an always-fatal brain disorder that kills about 270 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

In 1985, Lienhart and her sister, Sharon Nahorney, lost both parents and an elderly aunt in one of the city's most notorious murders. Teen-agers Cordel Boyd and Winona Fletcher executed Tom and Ann Faccio and Emelia Elliot at their home.

Hungry for information about the investigation and court case, the family discovered that victims had no standing in the criminal justice process. Because she was 14, Fletcher went through a mini-trial called a waiver hearing to determine if she should be charged as an adult. The hearing was closed to the public, including the victim's family.

Lienhart and Nahorney were outraged. The sisters created Victims for Justice, a grass-roots organization devoted to helping victims negotiate the system and to lobbying the Legislature for changes in the law.

Today, victims rights are enshrined in a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

Nahorney said doctors revealed Lienhart's diagnosis to the family Nov. 2. ''It has been so fast you would not believe it,'' she said. ''They told us the only treatment was a safe, loving environment. ... We poured all the love we could give on her.''

Classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was first identified in Germany in the 1920s, said Dr. Ermias Belay of the Centers for Disease Control. It is a close cousin to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob, the disease associated with infected beef that has killed more than 100 people in Great Britain and other European countries since 1995.

In the brains of those affected with both types of CJD, something goes wrong with a protein called a prion, Belay said. It becomes misshapen and resistant to the normal protein recycling process. The abnormal prion causes healthy protein to become abnormal and die, creating holes in the brain that quickly short-circuit all the body's systems, leading to death within a year of symptoms first appearing. Lienhart's symptoms, stumbling and dizziness, first appeared in early summer, Nahorney said.

Lienhart was born in Wyoming and came to Alaska with her family in the 1940s. Her father was a construction superintendent who built housing for military families.

Lienhart and her husband of 41 years, Wayne, had five grown children and seven grandchildren.

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