Cut Death Penalty to Fund Criminal Investigations

After 25 years, a suspect has finally been named in the “Grim Sleeper” serial murders. Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was arrested on July 7, 2010, and charged with ten counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for crimes dating back to August 1985.

The victims’ families can rest a little easier knowing that, even after 25 years, the Los Angeles Police Department is working on solving these murders. Solving homicides and holding murderers accountable provides justice for victims’ families and removes killers from our streets. As Donnell Alexander, brother of victim Monique Alexander, said, “It’s not closure, but it helps.”

Unfortunately, thousands of murder victim family members throughout California, like me, are still waiting for similar justice. According to a report by California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death PenaltyThe Silent Crisis in California: Unsolved Murders, 1,000 murders go unsolved each year in California. This means that thousands more family members and friends of the victim are left wondering if their loved one’s killer is still out there.

In 2004, my son Terrell was murdered while home from college during his winter vacation. Six years later, no suspect has been identified.

While I wait for justice, my glimmer of hope gets dimmer. Los Angeles can no longer afford overtime for homicide investigators. Oakland is laying off police officers. The Victim’s Compensation Fund was cut by $50 million. To close the state’s $20 billion budget gap, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed slashing almost everything, often at the expense of victims.

Isn’t the Grim Sleeper case a hopeful example of homicide investigators’ diligent commitment to decades old cold cases? Unfortunately, the circumstances in the four years leading up to the arrest of Franklin Jr. aren’t the norm in cold case investigations.

For 25 years, the LAPD searched for a suspect with little success. Despite several brushes with the law, Franklin Jr. was never a suspect. In 2006, however, L.A. Weekly investigative reporter Christine Pelisek began putting pressure on the LAPD to inform the public that they were searching for a serial killer and that they needed help identifying him. With public support and many overtime hours, they finally arrested Franklin Jr.

Unfortunately, most homicide cases don’t receive the media attention, public support, and overtime resources that the Grim Sleeper investigation has. After most homicides, there is a blurb in the newspaper and then we never hear about it again. The family members hear from detectives diligently for the first year, and then less frequently.

The primary obstacle to solving murders is inadequate staffing at homicide investigation units, leading to poor quality investigations. While we cannot guarantee every murder will be solved, we know how to increase the odds: increase the number of homicide investigators, improve the quality of forensic labs, and support and protect witnesses who come forward. We must make sure crime labs and law enforcement units have enough funding so that solving every murder becomes a possibility.

But in these dire economic times, where will funding come from? The Governor has proposed cutting almost every program. Except for one: California’s death penalty.

Why do we continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty even though it has never been proven to deter murderers and 1,000 killers get away with murder each year? We should work toward preventing violence and getting murderers off of our streets by solving cold cases instead of executing the select few murderers who are already in prison.

California is facing tough choices. We simply do not have the resources to provide every service and program. In this fiscal crisis, our public safety priority should be to remove the most violent and dangerous offenders from our communities. We cannot continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on a symbolic, yet ineffective death penalty system.

If we need to cut something, let’s cut the death penalty.

Originally posted on Dick and Sharon’s LA Progressive.

photo credit: California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
By Aqeela Sherrills
Aqeela Sherrills lost his son to homicide in 2004. He was one of the original organizers of the Watts "gang truce" in 1992 and is currently the Southern California Outreach Coordinator for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

115 comments

Jacquie S.
Jacquie S5 years ago

To finish my earlier comment. ( the word count should be more clearly indicated)

Any of us can become an injured, or dead, victim of crime, and the perpetrator will be in prison, housed, fed, and cared for medically, until released, or dead themselves. I'm just saying.

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Jacquie S.
Jacquie S5 years ago

Perhaps it is a misfortune to consider committing a crime, a dreadful fault in reasoning, or simply misplaced anger. It might even be that a person has reason to break the law because they are hungry, or consider stuff belonging to another should belong to them. The courts of law, juries, and legal counsel, together assist the search to assign appropriate blame, and punishment for the crime. Most of us will never walk this walk, but we get to apply all kinds of reasoning to the situation. In a tribal setting the result of committing a crime against other members is more likely to initiate a clear punishment, along with a clear conscience. Our large societies command a more humane, and perhaps a more highly impractical, view, a highly complex, and very expensive prison system. One that must always be funded, no matter how tough financial pressures are. There may not be an "easy" solution. Crime that is not personal, but a distant social issue, fails to alarm us, so we take careful measure to insure human rights are observed. The prison system is very, very expensive, and long term incarceration seldom brings criminals to their knees with sorrow for their transgression. In places like Singapore, execution by firing squad is frequently carried out with satisfaction to all but the criminal, making crime exceedingly unattractive. Currently, our criminal justice, and prison, system, insure that we carry a very heavy social burden, that grows worse each, and every day. Any of us ca

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peggy p.
peggy p5 years ago

i am torn on this issue because i do believe in the death penalty but there are so many mess-ups before and during trials that honest people are sentenced to death.

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rose petran
Rose P6 years ago

Gene W. - I've said this before - the death penalty IS MURDER - it's just legal

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Nancy W.
Nancy W.6 years ago

The Death Penalty USED to WORK before the 70's when people started being PROUD of their jail time. Jails are CROWDED to the point where there's no more ROOM and no more MONEY to build MORE jails. Ever since the 70's there seems to be no REMORSE for ANYTHING. America has turned into a bunch of SELF-RIGHTEOUS people who won't compromise on ANYTHING. It's not just the Government that's gridlocked, it's the PEOPLE too. The only answer to this is one that can't be forced, since we can't legislate morality. But if these jailbirds had any sense of morality or respect, they wouldn't be committing crimes in the first place.

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Erin R.
Erin R7 years ago

Noted.

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Ann Eastman
Ann Eastman7 years ago

I have also read that it is more expensive to execute someone than to have them serve life-long prison terms. The additional funding would be far more wisely spent in investigations. Also, imprisonment
provides a chance to make partial reparation to individuals who are proven to be wrongfully convicted- and the number of these cases is distressingly high.

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Gene W.
Gene W7 years ago

Monka, if the death penalty is not punishment then obviously we have this criminal justice thing all wrong, simply because someone is murdered (death not being a penalty) the murderer should be released to do it again. Should the murderer receive payment for these (non)crimes. "Crime school" wow what a logical progression teach them that murder is wrong and they should not do it anymore, spank their hands and let them go.

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Jane R.
Jane R7 years ago

Funding needs to come from someplace else. States can't house all the criminals yet to be caught. They'd have to build a lot more prisons & hire a lot of guards. That cost's a lot of money. A murderer can't be rehabilitated & set free. They will just kill again. Once convicted & given the death penalty they should only be allowed one appeal then put to death. They deserve to get what they dished out - DEATH!

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Ollie W.
Olivia W7 years ago

I think that if they deserve punishment, I think it would be better to let them live with what they did for the rest of their lives in a cell. And if you believe in the hell thing (which I don't) then they will get punished in the 'afterlife', but they will still also suffer in their life too. I am not one to promote cruelty but if they are truly bad people, then they deserve to be imprisoned.

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