From today's San Francisco Chronicle, Judy Kerr's op-ed piece, "On the Death Penalty: What price vengeance?":
My heart goes out to Chandra Levy's parents, Robert and Susan, who have waited almost eight years for an arrest to be made in their daughter's murder. While "closure" is a myth for those of us who have lost a loved one to violence, at least the killer's arrest and conviction will provide the Levys with some peace of mind. At least they will know that their daughter's killer is not out there on the streets endangering others and that he will be held accountable for his crime. I can only hope that this will happen for my family one day.
My brother, Robert (Bob) James Kerr, was found lifeless, shirtless, barefoot and without identification on July 12, 2003 in Everett, Wash. It took weeks for investigators to identify Bob. Like the Levys when their daughter went missing eight years ago, I spent those first weeks after my brother's disappearance not knowing where he was, hoping he was still alive. I struggled from my home in California to get the local officials to do more to find him. Five and a half years later, I am still waiting for a suspect to be named and for justice to finally take its course.
In many cities and counties across the United States, the majority of murders go unsolved and killers continue to walk the streets. In California alone, there are nearly 25,000 unsolved homicides from the past 20 years. Despite this alarming number, due to a continual shortage of funds, there are not nearly enough homicide or cold case investigators in most jurisdictions.
In the midst of California's mounting economic crisis, the situation worsens every day as local law enforcement officials are forced to make more cuts. Yet, at the same time, we continually throw our money away to fund a costly, ineffective and deeply flawed death penalty.
This is even more shocking given that we already have a safer, more cost effective alternative: replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment. Permanent imprisonment punishes killers, protects our communities, and provides victims and the community with peace of mind knowing that killers are off the streets. Forever. And it does so without wasting public safety resources.
In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a bipartisan blue ribbon panel created by the California Senate in 2004, unanimously concluded that California's death penalty is broken. The commissioners reported that the current failed system costs $125 million more each year than permanent imprisonment. It is time, the commission concluded, for the voters to think seriously about replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment.
Given the economic turmoil throughout the United States, that is exactly what many other states are doing. Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, Nebraska and New Mexico are all considering legislation that would end executions in order to cut costs.
With the largest death row in the country and a fiscal emergency on our hands, I find it shocking and deplorable to think that California still invests hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a broken death penalty while so many murders go unsolved.
Death penalty proponents often claim the death penalty deters crime even though the vast majority of studies are inconclusive at best. The death penalty has never been shown to be a better deterrent than permanent imprisonment. So what does deter murder? Catching killers. Right now, we are literally letting thousands of people get away with murder - that is a public safety crisis. It seems so obvious that our limited public safety resources would be better spent catching these killers.
As Robert and Susan Levy wait for the their daughter's murder to be solved, I will wait, too, for Bob's murderer to be identified and held accountable for taking my brother's life. In the meantime, I hope that we will all carefully consider what exactly we are sacrificing to keep California's death penalty alive.
Judy Kerr, an Albany resident, is spokeswoman and victim liaison for California Crime Victims for Alternative to the Death Penalty.