Nina Salarno Besselman’s career as a stalwart victims’ rights advocate began in 1980 when she testified before President Regan’s Task Force on Crime Victims. She was 12.
Her youthful testimony grew out of a family tragedy – the execution-style murder of her oldest sister Catina in 1979. Nina told the panel that trauma became even more painful for the family during the legal process that followed. As victims, they found they had no voice and no rights. The killer was convicted of 2nd degree murder – and since then Nina has successfully argued at nine parole hearings to keep him in custody.
That terrible experience forged Nina’s lifelong commitment to serving crime victims and their families. After graduating from New College School of Law in San Francisco, she chose to become a prosecutor. Her first post was in Tulare County and later she shifted to Placer County, where she was responsible for all sexual assault cases and the coordination of the Multiple Disciplinary Interview Center and Sexual Assault Response Team. From 1995 to 1999, Nina worked for Sacramento County and specialized in domestic violence cases.
During her career as a prosecutor, Nina never lost a case.
In May 1999, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer appointed Nina to direct the first state Office of Victim Services. In that role she implemented both the Death Penalty Notification Program and an Appeals Notification Program. She also authored “The Death Penalty Handbook: A Guide for Crime Victims.”
Nina left the Attorney General’s Office in 2002 and began a private practice that handled complex family law, criminal cases and parole hearings.
She also expanded her political role and her efforts have repeatedly strengthened victims’ rights and protections in California:
- She authored the Amber Alert to immediately publicize child abductions, enabling the public to help police locate missing children. The law has helped recover more than 200 children since its passage in 2002;
- She was one of the directors of the successful 2004 campaign to defeat Prop 66, which sought to weaken the Three Strikes law;
- She helped win the fight in 2008 to pass Prop 9, the California’s Victims’ Bill of Rights, known familiarly as “Marsy’s Law.”
In addition to her professional efforts, Nina volunteers for several groups dedicated to assisting victims and enhancing public safety. She serves as:
- Executive director for Californians United for Public Safety;
- Project Director for Beyond Missing, a law enforcement resource for creating and distributing missing children flyers;
- Executive Board Member for Crime Victims United, which gives a voice to victims who don’t have one.
Nina Ashford has been repeatedly honored for her dedication to the cause of victims’ rights. She has received the following:
- California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s John Wayne Crime Fighter Award
- Orange County Award for writing California’s Amber Alert
- Advocate Angel award from the KlaasKids Foundation
- National Business and Professional Women’s Organization’s Young Careerist for Placer County