When my brother Robert Kerr was murdered in 2003 I expected justice to be swift and certain. Bob’s body was found on a suburban cul-de-sac in Snohomish County by a Sunday paper delivery truck driver for Seattle Post Intelligencer. He had been severely beaten and strangled. His wallet was missing and for several weeks after his death his credit cards and bank accounts were raided.
My family traveled from our homes in California and Massachusetts to claim his body and to bring his remains back to California where he first grew to love the mountains of the west coast. That is where his ashes are scattered.
For the first two years after his death I was in frequent contact with the Snohomish County sheriff’s detective assigned to the investigation of his murder. For most of those first two years we waited while the crime lab worked its way through the DNA evidence of the Green River killer cases before beginning to work on the evidence in Bob’s murder and other pending cases.
I sent complaints to the attorney general about the delay in processing the evidence. Why was my brother’s murder any less important than any other murder? Why were there not enough resources to handle all cases? I received a polite reply and a formal apology explaining the volume of work to be done with limited resources. I was told there was not enough funding to support another crime lab so evidence in many cases was delayed or simply not processed at all while high profile capital cases took precedent.
Today, I still stay in contact with and have great respect for the detectives in Everett. My family still waits for Bob’s killer to be identified, charged, prosecuted, and sentenced. I was told last month that the investigation into Bob’s murder was on hold because one of the cold case detectives had resigned and had not yet been replaced. In December of last year, the King County Sherriff’s Office’s announced that because of a lack of resources, the office would shut down its cold-case squad indefinitely. There is little hope for families of murder victims, much like mine, in King County to find closure on the 228 cold cases still remaining.
Against the backdrop of this very personal story, the state of Washington continues to waste millions of dollars each year prosecuting a few high profile killers while hundreds of cold cases go unsolved. From the moment a homicide is designated as a capital murder the costs to the state begin to grow faster and reach higher totals than any other criminal prosecution.
That additional expense is understandable, even laudable, considering the risk of wrongful conviction. It is foolhardy and arrogant to think that even with this extraordinary expense that mistakes don’t happen in Washington State. There will never be a human system of justice that is perfect. There will always be the chance of wrongful execution.
My hope for swift and certain justice disappeared many years ago in an unfunded backlog of crime lab investigations. My hope for any access to justice in my brother’s case turns dimmer each year. My frustration now fuels my resolve and dedication to make the criminal justice system more responsive to the needs of victims and survivors of violent crime.