By Judy Kerr
Spokesperson and Victim Liaison
California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
In 2003, my brother, Robert (Bob) James Kerr, was murdered in Everett, Wash. His killer has still not been found. This experience has only reinforced my belief that the death penalty serves no purpose for me. I honor Bob by speaking out against the death penalty.
As National Crime Victims’ Rights Week approaches (April 26-May 2), I am painfully reminded of how misguided our priorities and beliefs about victims’ rights have been. I applaud recent efforts across the country to recognize the diverse range of beliefs among murder victim survivors, especially regarding the death penalty.
Many murder victim survivors, like me, are tired of being offered as a reason to use the death penalty even though we do not believe it serves us. We are raising our voices and making a difference in many states. I only hope that California follows our fellow states’ footsteps by listening to victims and honestly looking at what we are sacrificing to keep the death penalty alive.
On April 21, Colorado joined several other states reconsidering the death penalty when the House approved a bill that would eliminate the death penalty and use the money to focus on cold cases. Last month, New Mexico replaced their death penalty with permanent imprisonment, the Maryland House of Delegates approved limiting the use of the death penalty, and New Hampshire’s bill to abolish the death penalty passed the House of Representatives.
The results vary among these states and the several others considering similar legislation, but three conclusions remain consistent: 1) the death penalty is ineffective, 2) the death penalty costs each state millions of dollars more than permanent imprisonment, and 3) it is time to seriously consider legislation replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment.
Given California’s current economic climate, we must look carefully at the financial impact of every public policy. I am disheartened by how we choose to spend our limited public safety resources and where our priorities lie.
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a bi-partisan panel created by the California Senate, unanimously concluded that California’s death penalty is broken, just as similar panels across the country have concluded.
The commissioners reported that the current system costs California taxpayers $125 million more per year than if we used permanent imprisonment; a safer alternative that punishes killers, protects our neighborhoods, and provides victims and the community with peace of mind knowing that killers are off of our streets. Forever.
After Bob’s murder, weeks passed before investigators identified his body. During that time, I did not know whether or not he was alive. I struggled from my home in California to get the local officials to do more to find him. Almost six years later, I am still waiting for a suspect to be named and for justice to finally take its course.
By replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment, we could use our public safety resources on efforts that would actually benefit victims and keep our communities safe, such as solving cold cases. Unfortunately, my brother’s story is not unique; the number of unsolved homicides in this country is appalling. In California alone, nearly 25,000 murders from the past 20 years remain unsolved.
It is shocking that we sit idly as law enforcement agencies continually make financial cuts – most jurisdictions do not have nearly enough homicide and cold case investigators due to lack of funds. The staggering number of unsolved homicides grows daily, yet we squander money on the death penalty.
The very real public safety crisis is that we are literally letting thousands of killers get away with murder in order to seek death sentences for an arbitrarily chosen few. Executing a few killers has never been proven to be a better deterrent than permanent imprisonment – getting killers off of our streets is.
Many states throughout our country are taking a giant leap in the right direction by looking towards replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment as a solution to their common public safety and economic emergencies. We, the California voters, should follow their lead.
Judy Kerr is spokeswoman and victim liaison for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. View the website at: www.crimevictims.org
Posted on April 27, 2009 at California Progress Report