Dennis Holland poured the grief from his sister's killing into advocating for victims' rights, consoling families and advancing state legislation.
Holland, a former Locust Valley resident, was 21 when his 17-year-old sister, Kathleen Holland, was killed in 1986. Soon after, he became active in support groups for families of murder victims.
Dennis Holland died Aug. 16 in Orlando, Florida, due to complications from pneumonia, said Caroline Facella, a cousin. He was 53.
Facella, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said his sister's death drove Holland to service. "That was his purpose in life. To help where he could help," she said.
Holland co-founded Justice for All, a group that advocated victims' rights legislation in Albany, said co-founder Ellen Levin.
The group successfully lobbied for 13 laws, including those that prevented a homicide victim's sexual past from being introduced at trial, made stalking a felony and allowed victims or their survivors to give impact statements to parole boards, she said.
"Without Dennis, I really don’t think it would’ve gone as far as it did," said Levin, whose daughter Jennifer was killed in Central Park in 1986 by Robert Chambers in a highly publicized case. "The notoriety of my case got us appointments. But it was Dennis — he did the footwork, he had the drive, he was the force that kept us going."
She called it "part of our healing, trying to make something right out of something so very wrong."
Holland served on the executive board for the Long Island/New York Parents and Other Survivors of Murdered Victims Outreach from 1995 until the time of his death.
"He gave value to his sister’s life by what he did," said Barbara Connelly, executive director of the organization.
Holland became active in sibling and parent survivor groups and saw the need to pass state laws, including one to allow family members to speak at sentencing.
"They knew we, the parents, were sitting around, most of us, wailing, but not able to do things. The siblings wanted to make change," Connelly said. "They were young. They had gusto. They had anger and pain, and they were good at that."
She called Holland "the book of judicial information for us, for the siblings and the parents. He still was, two weeks before he died."
Facella said Holland would help however he could: "His leadership became the guiding light to so many survivors."
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli got to know Holland well when DiNapoli chaired the Assembly Government Operations Committee in the 1990s. Holland would introduce family of survivors and victims' advocates to lawmakers and was a frequent presence in Albany. He called Holland a "larger-than-life figure."
"For all the tragedy he went through in his life, he always had a hearty laugh," DiNapoli said.
A 1990 Newsday article on Holland called him a fixture at many Long Island murder trials, "always sitting next to the family of the victim, and, during recesses, often barreling toward television cameras with his hand outstretched, trying to shield grieving victims from being on that night's newscast."
"Support is only half of what I do," Holland told Newsday at the time. "Change is just as important."
In September 1986, Holland was a graduate of Locust Valley High School who had returned to his parents' home after a year in Florida and was enrolled at Nassau Community College.
His friend Joseph Porto of Bayville called him to say Holland's sister was missing. When she didn't return home, the search began, with Holland and Porto searching side by side.
Eventually Holland's sister was found dead. Porto confessed to the killing. But the jury believed Porto's defense — that Kathleen Holland had died, unintentionally, during "rough sex" — and convicted him of criminally negligent homicide, a lesser charge. Porto served 30 months in prison, Newsday reported.
Dennis Holland earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at St. John’s University, Facella said. He then headed to Albany to work for the Assembly as a Graduate Scholar for the Committee on Local Governments and went on to work for the Nassau County Board of Elections as computer operations director.
The Mets and Jets fan was preparing to graduate this fall with a master's degree from The Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, Facella said.
He was also preceded in death by his father, Denis Holland, a retired Nassau County police detective sergeant, and his mother, Judy Holland.
Visiting will be held at the Oyster Bay Funeral Home from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 9:45 a.m. Monday at St. Gertrude's Roman Catholic Church in Bayville, followed by his interment at Mount St. Mary's Cemetery in Flushing, Queens.