Friday, April 10, 2009

Fear, Grief and Death

Demian Bulwa and Kevin Fagan report in Thursday morning's SFChron on the first statements issued by the Tracey, California family of eight year old Sandra Cantu, whose body was recovered from a suitcase in a farm pond earlier this week after days of frantic searching for the girl.

The horrifying case of the little girl who had gone outside to play near her home has once again confronted California with one of its (and America's) predominant late modern fears, the brutal and possibly sexual murder of a very young girl by an unknown possible stranger.

It also reminds us why California's dysfunctional and hugely expensive death penalty continues to limp on despite costing the state a billion dollars a year to execute approximately a dozen prisoners since 1992.

"There's a monster out there," Sandra's grandfather, Jose Chavez, said as he faced reporters at the entrance to the mobile home park where the 8-year-old girl lived. "He's got to be apprehended; he's got to be put away."

Sandra's uncle, Joe Chavez, added: "It's against my religion, but for me - (I ask for) the death penalty."

"there is a monster out there": Well yes, there is a logic to saying that. A monstrous act for sure.

"It's against my religion, but for me": There is a kind of resignation in that. Not only in the strain with his religion, but a sense that catching and putting away the person who murdered Sandra is the really important thing. The death penalty is put as a point of personal privilege (I ask for).

Sadly the two impulses, apprehending and putting away the killer, and seeking the death penalty, are often at cross purposes. The hunt for a monster can drive police to tactics, like coercing confessions, or relying on jail house snitches, that can result in wrongful convictions.

When Sandra's killer is caught, there is an excellent chance he will be sentenced to death, not withstanding a steady decline in death sentences handed down in California and nationwide. After he is sentenced to death in court, this person will be taken to San Quentin prison where more than two decades will go by during which the "monster" must be managed as a human being in custody, and in which millions will be spent by the state to pay for the complex legal proceedings that may well never satisfy doubts about the investigation or trial. If and when Sandra's killer is given a lethal injection, Sandra's grandfather will likely have passed on, and all who today shudder at the tragedy that unfolded in Tracey will have to search their memories to remember who Sandra Cantu was.

1 comment:

MWilliams said...

And let's not forget that many are assuming this to be a sex offense (which adds to the "monster" image) even though all we know for sure right now is that she was murdered. Moreover, people assume the killer to be a man.