February 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the murder of Jeanine Grinsell who was killed by David Raley in Santa Clara County. A second victim, sexually assaulted and stabbed multiple times, survived and has spent the past 25 years trying to put the memory behind her. Raley was apprehended, convicted and sentenced to California’s death row where he remains today.
When I hear stories of inmates on death row for murders that happened decades ago, I am filled with rage against the death penalty, but not for the reasons you might think.
I marked a milestone this month, too. My brother, Robert James Kerr, would have been 50 years old and I would have celebrated with him. But in 2003 he was severely beaten, strangled and left shirtless and shoeless on the side of the road thirty miles from his apartment. His bank accounts were raided during the three weeks it took authorities to identify his body. There is surveillance video of someone repeatedly using his ATM card after his death.
His killer remains free.
There are over one thousand unsolved murders like Bob’s each year in California. Yet counties are closing cold case units, rape evidence kits are left unprocessed, and lawmakers are cutting corrections budgets. We have more people in prison in California than in most countries in the world, but still a thousand families every year are left to fear and wonder and grieve.
In the months and years after Bob’s murder, I have talked with investigators and detectives. I have pleaded with state DNA testing lab directors about the delays in processing evidence. I have studied the details of the coroner’s report for clues that might have been missed by someone who didn’t care as much as I do, or simply had too many other cases to process.
If Bob’s murderer were ever to be apprehended and charged with capital murder, I would face decades of revisiting the horrific details of his death – much like Grinsell’s family and Raley’s surviving victim. The state would plod endlessly onward with costly appeals and no possibility of closure for my family.
One billion dollars will go into death penalty appeals, trials and housing in the next five years in California. While we spend millions on the death penalty every year, literally thousands of killers walk the streets. We spend so much money and focus so much attention on a few aging convicts when these resources would be better spent on law enforcement, state crime labs and investigations to bring murderers to justice.
Revenge sounds sweet at first, but in reality families pay the real price. Our pain, suffering and doubt are prolonged endlessly, our communities remain at risk, and killers roam free. The truth is California’s death penalty wastes precious funds and does not deter crime. It does even less to bring healing to families and survivors.
What capital punishment does do is waste money–money needed to solve murders. In these economic times, the most responsible way to deter crime is to quickly apprehend and punish the people who commit heinous acts. We cannot afford to spend scarce resources on special attention for 700 convicts who are already behind bars. I am outraged that we allow a handful of prisoners to become media stars. They are locked up and Bob’s killer is not.
I understand anger. My soul has been shaped with a yearning for revenge. That is precisely why I know that the death penalty will never bring any of us peace. Only severe, swift and certain justice for all killers could do that.
The death penalty is a waste of money. Tell Governor Schwarzenegger to make the logical choice and abolish the death penalty in California.
Photo by California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Judy Kerr, Northern California Outreach Coordinator, California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty