by Judy Kerr
Published on sfgate.com on Sept. 28th
When someone you love is murdered, life as you know it changes. Your world changes. You change.
I would know; my brother, Bob Kerr, was murdered in 2003. Suddenly, I joined countless victims learning to navigate their way through the criminal justice system on their own.
A stay was issued Tuesday to halt the state of California's scheduled execution of Albert Brown at 9 p.m. on Thursday. As the legal issues may not be resolved until the last minute, the victim's family silently waits, not knowing what lies ahead.
This isn't Brown's first execution date; the family has already gone through the rigmarole of awaiting an execution, only to have it canceled. That's the thing about the death penalty: although it's touted by proponents as being "for the victims," the victims are barely an afterthought.
Unlike the family in this case, my foray into the justice system only went as far as the investigation because my brother's murder remains unsolved. This means that I don't know the name of my brother's killer, whether the killer is alive or dead, behind bars or roaming the streets, or if he has been rehabilitated or has taken more lives.
Sadly, unsolved homicides are very common. In California, 1,000 new murders each year go unsolved. While counties already struggle to solve even half of their homicides, California's budget crisis makes the situation worse. Los Angeles County can't afford overtime for homicide investigators, while Oakland had to lay off police officers.
Families like mine are told there's not enough money for criminal investigations, yet we watch the state pour money into California's death penalty, pursuing executions for 700 inmates who are already safely behind bars on Death Row.
Despite a $19 billion deficit and no budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "borrowed" $64 million from the general fund last month for a down payment to begin construction on a new Death Row housing facility at San Quentin State Prison. In the end, the new facility will cost $400 million or more.
To even seek a death sentence costs counties $1.1 million more than seeking permanent imprisonment. After the trial, the cost for the entire death penalty system - paid by the state's general fund - grows. The annual cost of California's death penalty totals $126 million per year.
After the math is done, we learn that replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment would save $1 billion over the next five years. That's $1 billion that could be spent hiring police officers, homicide investigators and DNA lab technicians to solve more murders and to fund services that all victims could use, such as grief counseling.
I will never defend Albert Brown nor do I condone the horrific crime for which he is convicted. However, in honor of my brother and with sincere respect for the families of all murder victims, I speak out against the false notion that the death penalty is needed "for the victims."
Victims' families are not prepared to handle a murder, and most are never supported adequately in the aftermath. The focus should be on providing victims with resources to cope with their loss rather than revictimizing them for decades to come.
But as long as the death penalty remains, the state will continue on its misguided path to "justice," leaving victims behind to fend for themselves.
Judy Kerr is the Northern California outreach coordinator for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.