As the daughter of a murder victim, I urge Californians to vote “yes” on Proposition 62 on Nov. 8, repealing the death penalty.
California would join Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut and New Mexico, which have all repealed the death penalty since 2007.
In 1990, when I was 16, my mother’s body was discovered in a field miles south of Seattle where she had disappeared months before. Her case languished as a cold case until 2003, when a suspect was finally named: Gary Ridgway. Dubbed “the Green River Killer,” Ridgway was already in custody for several other murders in the greater Seattle area.
Ridgway agreed to plead guilty to 48 counts of first-degree murder in exchange for providing information to law enforcement about the murders. As a result, he received a sentence of life without possibility of parole, which means he will die in prison. He is being held in the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.
The Green River Task Force and the King County prosecutor’s office were faced with a gargantuan amount of evidence in the murders Ridgway committed. Their decision to offer Ridgway life without parole released my family from the painful lack of closure – of not knowing who killed our mother. Many family members of the victims of murder live with the reality that their case might never be solved.
If California voters join those in other states who have abolished the death penalty by voting “yes” on Proposition 62, the sentences of California’s nearly 750 death row inmates will be converted to life without parole. We would save $1 billion over the next five years – money we could spend improving the quality of life for victims and our communities.
Despite what Ridgway did to my mother, and the pain he wreaked on me, my family and our community, I have never, not even for a minute, wanted him to receive the death penalty. Retribution in the case of murder does absolutely nothing to undo the act. Punishing my mother’s murderer has absolutely nothing to do with her death; Ridgway’s fate is separate from hers. His execution would never bring her back or take away the suffering.
If family members of murder victims want retribution, what is harder for the criminal: death or lifelong accountability? Execution is arguably an easier fate.
Even abolishing the death penalty would not rectify the problem of wrongful conviction, a risky part of murder prosecutions and sending someone to death row.
Those who must solve a murder find a morass of loose evidence and murky circumstances. Law enforcement officials are faced with an immense challenge. Each year in California, more than 1,000 new murders go unsolved.
Having waited months before my mother’s body was found, then over a decade for the killer to be identified, I know how difficult it is to wait for justice. No family should ever have to go without it. Law enforcement agencies need more resources and training to solve more homicides, more quickly. Murder victims’ families also have needs, including financial assistance for burials, grief counseling and medical care.
Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on carrying out the death penalty, we should improve victims’ services and direct resources toward investigations and prisoner rehabilitation. Victims deserve better than the hollow promise of another death. It’s time for California to join the states working for solutions to violent crime, not perpetuating it with the death penalty.
Nova Reeves, a Bay Area resident, is involved with California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.