A Tale of Two Murders: A Victim’s Perspective on the Death Penalty

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.

Care2 Action:

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


Pat V.
Pat V6 years ago

True cold blooded killers most likely, have no remorse.. only the remorse of getting caught and their "fun" ended. We being "civilized", SHOULD eliminate those who have been judged guilty (DNA) and have killed for enjoyment. Allowing a "life sentence" is little punishment and few if any live with "remorse"... To allow them to live... and to night after night, relive the "excitement and thrill" of their memories.. is obscene and a reward... especially when an innocent child is involved. Toughen up Americans, think of these killers as needing to be "killed" and are only being put to sleep! Few seem to care that the U.S. bombs and kills "innocents" daily in other parts of the world, people who have done nothing to deserve their "punishment" !

Laura T.
Laura T6 years ago

I would agree on doing away with the death penalty if we did not give these scumbag murderers better health care than many law abiding citizens or allow them to have other privileges that many people cannot afford, movies, college classes, fancy gym equipment, etc.

There should also be much more care in who and how prisoners are released. My goddaughter's best friend was killed by a release murderer who also went on to kill several others before he was caught again. who is to say he will not be released again either by someones' stupid choice, escape, or accidental oversight?

That type should not ever be let out of their cell for any reason except into a body bag for incineration.

Mervi R.
Mervi R7 years ago

Thanks for the post; I think the death penalty is never right, it´s legalized murder, in my opinion.

Seth E.
Seth E7 years ago

This article is one of the most compelling arguments I've read against the death penalty.

The argument against wasting money to keep someone in prison for life misses the point; we are already paying tax dollars to keep these people in prison (the one mentioned in the article has served 25 years and still had not yet been executed), and it actually costs more to incarcerate someone on death row than it does for other criminals. It also is never a quick process as the continual appeals can drag over many years.

The serial killers argument is also ridiculous as it's sheer revenge. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep them alive and study their psychological failures that drew them to the point of killing so that we can learn more about it and use it to identify potential future killers, as well? Maybe we could even find a cure for such a broken mind, through intervention, therapy, or medication. Wouldn't developing the ability to prevent future such killings outweigh the revenge for the murders that already happened?

It's not like the punishment of knowing the finality of life imprisonment is a walk in the park; they'll still die.

If prisoners on death row can sometimes die before execution, how is that different from a life sentence anyway?

Mary C.
Mary C7 years ago

TRENTON, N.J.— It started with a party invitation to a 15-year-old girl from some young men she knew. She took her 7-year-old stepsister to an apartment down the street from their home near the New Jersey Statehouse, where the girls had been hanging around outside on a Sunday afternoon.

For the younger girl, police say it quickly descended into a horrifying ordeal in which she was gang-raped by as many as seven men as her sister not only watched, but got paid by those who did it.

Their parents, none the wiser, thought maybe they had run away.

"We're talking about a kid who told her sister to go into an apartment and let people rape her," said Trenton police Capt. Joseph Juniak. "It's unfathomable."

The teen has been charged with aggravated sexual assault, promoting prostitution and other crimes. Her name was not released because of her age, but the county prosecutor plans to ask the court to try her as an adult. In the meantime, she is being held at the Mercer County Youth Detention Center.

Inside apartment 13-C, police said the 7-year-old was soon left alone as her sister headed to a back bedroom to sell sex to several men. When she came out into the living room, she handed her 7-year-old sister money and encouraged her to let the men touch her.

"It went from touching to straight out assault and rape," Juniak said. "They threatened to kill her if she screamed or told anyone."

Wendi Bowden
Past Member 7 years ago

My own opinion on Killers is...They chose to take away the life of their victims when they killed them, so they should also lose the right to live...Why should we pay taxes to keep them in prisons

Danielle Golden
Danielle Wiltse7 years ago

My I make one statement. Living one's life forever in confinement is a far harsher punishment than releasing the soul by death of the physical body. I read a lot of the spiritual articles as well. The physical death of the body does not result in the death of the soul which must carry on, whether to face the acts they have committed and comes to terms with them or to find themselves in a hell of their own making. Either way it is releasing a tortured to soul to deal with their own guilt where they can not interfere or bring harm to other sentient beings trying to create their lives here on Earth.
We have entered an era where have lethal injection which is simply falling asleep and transitioning to the next plane with no pain or fear of pain or torture. I advocate release by death for those who so violently kill another, especially a child, only when that release is swift and painless. We do not need to bring ourselves down to their level by torturing them with eletric currents or sticking them in a tiny room and filling it with gas.

Claudia Tapia Guerrero

Interesting information!

Katrina Dewes
Trina Dewes7 years ago

What about all the innocent people who have been executed? Also, why are we paying so much to house these killers? Why not make them build the buildings, cook their own food , make their own clothes, clean their own spaces, make them be the total free labor , period. Free laborers until they die.

Ambrose Merly
Past Member 7 years ago

in my opinion, i'd prefer death to life locked up. i say give them life. let them spend all their days thinking about what they did.