Death of Democracy – or at least a minor glitch!

On Tuesday, April 18, I testified before the California Senate Public Safety Committee on two pieces of legislation that would begin the process of fixing California’s broken death penalty. The committee is dominated by liberal Democrats and the author of the legislation is a Conservative Republican. However, we all agree that the system is broken and that if executions, which are the law of the land and are supported by a majority of the population, are to proceed, certain legislative and administrative adjustments must be made. Senate Bill 1514, which was quickly defeated, would have eliminated the automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court for any death row inmate whose guilt was known and unquestioned. The following represents my testimony on behalf of Senate Constitutional Amendment 20, which would have diverted automatic appeals from the California Supreme Court, which has 7 jurists, to the California Court of Appeals, which has more than 100 jurists.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve sat here and testified on behalf of opportunities to fix the death penalty. I’ve testified on behalf of some of Senator Harmon’s bills and have at long last come to the conclusion that this committee has absolutely no intent of fulfilling the law of the land. They have absolutely no intent of doing anything more than protecting the most heinous individuals amongst us.  You people don’t care about my daughter; you people don’t care about any of the victims. You are interested in subverting the law of the land.”

“I think that you should be ashamed for the stand that you are taking here today. There is no way that the death penalty will ever be fixed, and we all agree that it is a broken system, as long as you turn your back on every common sense solution that’s put forth.  Yes indeed, it is about not having enough lawyers, but you know what? We have about 170,000 practicing lawyers in California and only 100 of them are qualified to hear death penalty appeals?”

“Yes, we have a problem with the court system. The Supreme Court cannot hear all of these cases. They have hundreds of cases on their dockets and they can only hear a few every year. You need to stand up and do something real for the people of California. Support the will of the people; support the law of the land. Thank you for your time.”

Committee Chairperson Loni Hancock said, “Thank you for your time. We do have committee rules that indicate that we don’t make attacks on members of the committee or people who are appearing as witnesses. Let me point out that it would help some of this argument if there were tax money to pay $184-million per year which is what it would cost on professional estimates to actually provide constitutional protection.”

And how much does it cost to let this go on year after year after year? How much does it cost to house Richard Allen Davis on death row…”

This is when my microphone was cut off, democracy was denied and a tax and spend liberal State Senator revealed that she was instead a fiscal conservative.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 20

Milestones

By Krystine Dinh

Sierra’s search center was buzzing.

Today was productive. Though it has almost been a month since Sierra’s disappearance, over 300 volunteers came ready to search. Brian, armed with new search assignments, successfully dispatched 34 search teams to Morgan Hill. It was a cold day, but the sun shined bright. If Sierra’s nearby, I thought, at least it isn’t raining.

Today may have been productive, but not easy. The month milestone is approaching in two days. That means 31 days of unanswered prayers. 31 days without Sierra: A month too long.

We are people of milestones. Together, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, promotions, graduations. Then there are those who are tied together by milestones of a darker kind – deaths, tragedies, kidnappings, murders, abductions. Dates forever branded in your memory. For Polly’s family:  October 1st. Our family: May 27th. Now, Sierra’s family: March 16th.

At points throughout the day today, I found myself angry – disgusted at the monsters that have imposed those dates upon us. Those days will never just pass by without notice. For Sierra’s family, March 16th will never be just another day.

One reporter said to me, “I heard there were over eight families here who have gone through a similar situation. Can you tell me about them?” I was almost paralyzed by that question – where do I start? We are connected by milestones of tragedy – ragged, pained threads that bind us together. Given the choice, we would have much rather lived in ignorance – our families untouched and our loved ones unharmed. But, here we are.

As the month milestone approaches, I pray for all the strength in the world for Marlene, Steve, Danielle, Rick, Ashley, Connie, Keith, Sierra’s cat Chester, and the rest of her family, so they may find solace in each other on Monday the 16th. I pray for persistence and leadership for the volunteers so they may continue their efforts as time continues. I pray for safety for our search teams.

I pray for Sierra – for her life, her warmth and her safety.  I pray that one day we will celebrate another milestone – the day she returns home to her family.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 17

Most days I lie awake in the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out what happened to Sierra. Was someone familiar with her patterns lying in wait, knowing that she was isolated and vulnerable at 7:15 a.m.? Or, was it a family friend with evil intentions who just happened to be there on the cold, wet and windy morning who offered to drive her to school? If so, is that individual spending time at the search center, and have I shook his hand…repeatedly? It wouldn’t be the first time. In Polly’s case, and this was verified when we did a records check, the killer’s brother in law was lurking around our search center one day. Are any of the volunteers acting out of character? I really have no way of knowing since I have only known them for a couple of weeks. Was it a schoolmate, jealous that the popular new girl was commanding attention meant for her, or perhaps a boy with his own adolescent motivations? I really should try to get some sleep, because without more information we will never know the elusive answer to this very troubling riddle.
 Today the search was managed and organized by the community. I was the only member of KlaasKids who was able to make the drive to Morgan Hill to help out. It was cold and wet, not unlike the day Sierra stepped out of her home four weeks ago and vanished in the mist. Only that’s not what really happened.
 Brian, who emerged as a leader from the beginning is assuming incident commander status. He is briefing new volunteers and assigning search teams to returning volunteers. Roger, Dave, and Ernie are briefing and debriefing the teams. The data entry ladies are organizing the massive amounts of information flowing through the center so that law enforcement will be able to easily analyze the data. The registration ladies keep the flow into the center smooth, steady and organized, and wheelchair bound Keara is keeping the flow of supplies stocked so that no one is wanting. Like heavenly angels the kitchen ladies ensure that everybody has a meal to eat. Like the miracle of the fishes and loaves, the impossible task of feeding large numbers of hungry people with limited inventory, has never run dry. I love these people; these search junkies who are there day after day, because they make my job look easy.
 The temporary debate regarding volunteer burnout was for naught. All in all, 182 searchers were sent out on 15 search parties today. Searches for missing persons, particularly children, are driven much more by a sense of urgency than a probability of volunteer responses. During my first conversation with Sierra’s family I tried to explain that it would take some time to organize those first searches. They were incredulous that we weren’t able to send search parties immediately. That was a difficult conversation for me because I understood exactly what Steve, Marlene and Danielle were feeling: there is no more time to lose. Well, nothing has changed. We are just farther down the road without any idea where Sierra is.
 My experience is that the numbers of volunteers will dwindle over time. That is going to happen regardless of whether searches are scheduled once a week or every day of the week. However, that is a gradual process that has not yet begun. There is still a sense of urgency in the community and I think that we should continue to take advantage of opportunity.
 It is a matter of relativity. In almost every other case that I have worked, and I am sure that the KlaasKids team will back me up on this, 500+ volunteers turning out to search is unprecedented. However, in Sierra’s case it is status quo. It has happened in virtually every search that has been conducted thus far. Should this week or next week’s numbers dwindle to 200 or even 100 volunteers, we still a significant number of people to cover significant real estate. After all, as much as we are trying to find Sierra we are also eliminating areas where she is not.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 16


Everything is relative.
Last night I dreamt about my own death. I was old: much older than I am right now. My face had not been shaved in several days and I still had a full head of hair. I was in bed surrounded by loved ones and I was holding Violet’s hand. I was neither desperate nor afraid. I didn’t have regret and was at peace with the world. It must have been sad, because unless you are evil, death is always a sad occasion.
 Of course, this dream was a direct result of my immersion association with Sierra LaMar’s disappearance. I have been thinking of little else these past weeks and each day that passes is more ominous than the day before. I am struck by the fact that thousands of searchers and hundreds of search parties have revealed very little about the mystery surrounding her disappearance. As much as I hope that she will be recovered alive, I dread the alternative. I am a pragmatist and must fall back on my experience and knowledge of what we are doing in the field every day. Death invades my thoughts.
 Given that Sierra LaMar is still missing and that we will be searching for her again tomorrow, today was an excellent day. Earlier today I received a phone call from Brian Miller, who has emerged as one of the Sierra Search Center volunteer leaders, regarding another missing child in Morgan Hill. This time it was a 4-year-old girl. She had been missing for an hour by the time Brian and I talked. Obviously, Morgan Hill is very sensitive to child safety in the aftermath of Sierra’s disappearance. The little girl had disappeared during a slumber party after an adult had left the room full of children for a few minutes. Brian told me that upon being informed by a friend of the family he had logged onto the  KlaasKids Foundation Missing Child Page to ensure that proper procedures had been followed in reporting the missing girl to the police. Fortunately, relevant entities were notified in a timely manner.
 After Brian explained the situation he asked me if he could conference in the friend of the family who had notified him so that she could provide more detail on the case. My instinct and sense of dread was such that I wanted to tell him that one missing child in Morgan Hill at a time was enough. Instead, I told him to make the call. When she got on the line she was obviously overcome with emotion. The first words out of her mouth were, “She’s been found. She’s safe.” It turns out that the child is excellent at hide and seek. The first thing out of my mouth was laughter. Sometimes it’s just a good day.
 At 4:00 p.m. I picked up Violet for a quick trip to Berkeley. We had last minute shopping to do for a home improvement project. We were on the verge of exceeding our budget and preliminary research indicated that we would exceed it by hundreds of dollars within the next hour or so. We arrived at our destination and singled out the item that we had only seen through a window on Easter Sunday. It was not only perfect for our project, but cost much less that we had anticipated. We made the purchase and remain under budget. Upon leaving the premises we saw two little girls, one white and one black, tentatively kissing each other on the lips. It was precious.

Sometimes it’s a great day!

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 13

There’s a new quarterback in town. Michael Le may be the coolest guy in the room, but even he became giddy at the prospect of meeting 49er quarterback Alex Smith and some of his teammates at today’s search.
 Of course I didn’t need to remind Michael that we were searching for the missing 15-year-old cheerleader and not having a fan-fest for local sports heroes, because it was only six months ago that we were looking for his sister Michelle. That Michael is ready and willing to assume a leadership position in this effort is pretty amazing under those circumstances. “Marc, wouldn’t it be awesome if I was the 49er’s team leader? Then I could boss them around and tell them what to do.”
 “Yes, that would be fantastic Michael,” I said. “Let me see what I can do.”
 I picked KlaasKids National Search Director Brad Dennis up at SFO yesterday afternoon and we drove down to Morgan Hill together. The Search Center was abuzz with activity when we arrived in the late afternoon. Brad disappeared into the mapping room as I engaged Frank Harper in a conversation about an incident he had mentioned last week about a rape victim that he and his sons had rescued more than ten years ago. The physical similarities between that victim, Sierra, and Christina Williams who was kidnapped and murdered in Seaside, CA in 1998, were startling. Got me to thinking so I blogged about it yesterday.
 The search effort is in transition. KlaasKids is turning direct management over to community leaders and assuming a support and assistance role because we don’t have adequate staff to devote full time to the multiple cases that we are involved with. We brought Brad back this week because the response to the Sierra search has been so massive and the 49ers have been so openly supportive. We were concerned about an overwhelming response so Brad and his mapping team planned for as many as 1,000 volunteers.
 Four of those searchers turned out to be 49er tight end Delanie Walker, quarterback Alex Smith and his wife Elizabeth, backup quarterback Scott Tolzien, and tackle Joe Staley who really is as large as a redwood tree. All of them were assigned to Michael Le’s search team.
 When Michael’s team came back hours later I asked him how things went. He said that, “They were really awesome. And you know what? I wasn’t intimidated by them or anything,” Mike said, “but boy are they massive. It’s like they could snap me like a toothpick. They were extremely thorough and enthusiastic and they followed all their instructions. When I told them to hold the line, they held the line. When I asked them to dig into the brush they did. Even their wives and girlfriends dug deeply into the brush. They called me over when they found something relevant or suspicious. They did seem kind of anti-media though. Somehow, a couple of the media truck figured out where we were and started dogging us. It was a tough search, but I know that my team was thorough.”
 Another team, searching a high probability area was looking in outbuildings when they found a barn full of a dozen malnourished and filthy pigs in dilapidated pens.  The team leader reported the find to Santa Clara Animal Control, only to be told that they would not be able to respond until Monday. It turns out that there are only three animal control officers assigned to the 1,500 square mile County. In the old HBO television show Deadwood they used to throw dead bodies into the pigpen to make them disappear.
 These were but two of 53 teams consisting of 600 volunteers that were dispatched for today’s search. Every morning begins with such hope and ends with such frustration. Regardless of how many volunteer show up and how much terrain is covered, and as successful as this effort seems, at the end of the day Sierra LaMar is still missing.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search – Commonalities

Christina 6/12/98
The temperature had just dipped below 60°F when fourteen-year-old Christina Williams took her dog Greg for a walk at 7:30 p.m. on June 12, 1998. When Greg returned home alone, trailing his leash at 8:20 p.m. Christina’s mother Alice immediately knew that something was wrong.

Christina and her family lived on the old Ft. Ord Army Base in Seaside, California. She was a petite 5’2” middle school girl with long black hair and brown almond shaped eyes. Christina had flawless white teeth that lit up a room whenever she flashed her perfect smile.

The FBI classified Christina’s disappearance as a stranger abduction. This allowed law enforcement to devote the full power of their investigative resource to her case. They quickly focused upon two Latino men, one slim and the other heavyset, sort of an evil Laurel and Hardy, as the primary suspects. They had been seen driving in Christina’s sparsely populated neighborhood in an older Mercury Monarch. One witness saw a “frightened” Christina in the car with the two men at approximately 7:45 p.m. Upon receiving a call from Christina’s father Michael, the KlaasKids Foundation organized community searches in cooperation with the Seaside Police Department. Celebrities like Clint Eastwood and Mariah Carey appeared in Public Service Announcements for Christina.

I spent very difficult days with Christina’s father Michael. He was an introverted Meteorologist for the U.S. Army who felt more comfortable in front of a computer than he did at the search center. As a result, Michael Williams was a pioneer in creating one of the first family based sites on behalf of his missing daughter. Michael and his wife Alice, a Philippine native, had raised their two daughters overseas and had only recently moved to the United States. Alice told me that she felt safe in America and that she wanted her daughters to take advantage of the American dream.

Despite the best efforts of all involved, months passed without a significant lead in the case. Finally, on January 12, 1999 an ecological surveyor discovered human remains on the former Fort Ord Army Base, about three miles away from Christina’s home. The identity of the remains was not confirmed for several days.

A few hours after learning that the remains had been positively identified as Christina, her mother turned toward a television camera and in her grief and anguish screamed, “You know who you are.” Unfortunately, we still do not know who they are.

Teresa 10/2/1999
Frank Harper and his seventeen and twelve-year-old sons belonged to a community theater group in Gilroy, CA. On October 2, 1999 after the Saturday night performance of Oliver, they attended a cast party near Masten Avenue in Gilroy, CA. After plenty of good food and ping pong they decided to drive home to San Jose late in the evening.

They were driving East on Fitzgerald Avenue and had just crossed over Santa Teresa Blvd., when Frank saw a flash of light off to his left in the middle of a field. It was a car dome light. About 40-yards away a car door had opened and Frank saw a person slide out of the back door, upside down, legs flaying, onto the ground.

Frank swung his van around and aimed the headlights toward what he first suspected was a domestic quarrel. Instead, he saw a woman running as fast as she could in his direction. He drove toward her into the field. Frank and his sons could see that she was struggling to run because her arms were at her side pulling up her pants. By the time she reached Frank he could see that she was a young girl, no more than fifteen-years-old. 

He rolled down his window and could hear her screaming, “Help me! Help me, I’ve been raped!” Frank told her to get into his van NOW. He assured her that she was safe as she repeated frantically over and over, “I have been raped by three older men.”

As the older, rather beat-up car sped away, Frank’s immediate reaction was to get the license number. Once the girl assured him that she did not require immediate medical attention he floored the accelerator, took off after the rapists, and got on their tail in a high speed pursuit. He put on his high beams, shouted the license plate and told his sons, “If you remember only one thing in your life, remember this license plate number.”

The other car stopped and Frank had to slam on his breaks to avoid a rear end collision. It was very late at night, 55°F with clear skies and the moon was in the last quarter. Frank’s immediate reaction was, “Oh my God! We’re in trouble now.” He didn’t know if they had guns or not. After a brief standoff the other car sped up and raced away.

Frank returned to the cast party where his seventeen-year-old son jumped out of the van to call 911. Several of the parents who were still at the party tried to console the young girl. Teresa, who had just been gang raped by three vicious predators was a petite fifteen-years-old, 5’2” girl with long black hair and big brown eyes. Teresa had been waiting at a bus stop when a car with three men pulled up and dragged her into the car. They drove to Masten Avenue and raped her. She was wearing a nice sweatshirt and stylish jeans. She had a crucifix hanging around her neck.

The police arrived and took Teresa to the hospital. Frank and his sons made their statements and accompanied the police back to the crime scene. Frank wondered what he could have done differently. For a fleeting moment he wished that he had a gun so that he could have blasted the scumbags back into the hell from which they had ascended. But Frank is not that kind of man.

Instead, Frank drove his children home, went to bed and struggled to fall asleep. He couldn’t help but think about Teresa and how she would have to relive this experience for the rest of her life. I think that Teresa had put her life at risk when she escaped her tormentors and that they would have killed her had Frank not been there to rescue her.

The next day Frank and his boys returned to the theater for another performance of Oliver. That was when he found out that the perverts had all been apprehended and charged with rape. All three of them remain in prison to this day.

Sierra 3/16/12
It was 56°F and raining outside when Sierra LaMar disappeared after leaving her home on Paquita Espana Ct. Morgan Hill, CA shortly after 7:00 a.m. She has not been seen since. Morgan Hill is approximately 60 miles from Fort Ord, CA where Christina Williams was kidnapped and murdered, and 13.6 miles from the location where Teresa was kidnapped and raped. Sierra LaMar is a petite fifteen-years-old with long black hair and big brown eyes.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search – New Beginnings

The KlaasKids Foundation is organizing more volunteer searches for Sierra LaMar, the 15-year-old missing teenager from Morgan Hill, California, on Saturday, April 7, 2012, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. PDT, and on Wednesday, April 11, 2012, from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. PDT. 
Steve and Danielle LaMar
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and his wife Elizabeth will participate in Saturday’s search, as well as other 49ers players.
 Volunteers are being asked to report to the Find Sierra Search Center, located at Burnett Elementary School at 85 Tilton Road in Morgan Hill.  Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, and must register — with photo identification — at the search center.  “Dress appropriately for the weather, wear long pants and sturdy, covered toe shoes. We need people who can do foot searches as well as individuals who are willing to work in the Find Sierra Search Center. We are also looking for donations of food and office supplies.
Anyone not intending to volunteer with the search for Sierra is highly discouraged from attending, and will be denied access to the site.
Sierra’s Family, The KlaasKids Foundation, The Laura Recovery Center, and Child Quest International would like to thank everyone who has volunteered so far.  The KlaasKids Foundation is continuing to assist law enforcement and the LaMar family with future searches.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 6

On the Other Side

 

This routine is familiar. I woke up at 6AM, prepared to make a long drive to a search center that promises an even longer day. Media trucks are parked outside, but our family is not the one they’re looking to hound now. A long line forms outside with volunteers eager to help. Most are not familiar faces, but their presence is calming. The emotions that come with every search are difficult for me to comprehend – filled with anxiety, but unbeatable hope, exhaustion but perseverance. But this time, I’m on the other side. I’m a volunteer – one of the many- simply looking to make even an ounce of difference in the effort to bring Sierra home.
 “Whatever it takes”, I tell myself – the same phrase I repeated in my head over and over when Michelle went missing last May.
 The first time I met Sierra’s family, I was speechless. What is there to say that would suffice? They are facing a nightmare every minute of the day; they wake up each morning wondering where Sierra is and every night hoping Sierra is alive, fed, safe, warm, trying to find her way back. And on top of all of that, they have to use whatever brain power they have left to coordinate a national effort to bring Sierra home.  I came to the LaMars’ searches knowing that it has only been six months since I faced the same emotions, fought with the same demons – hoping that I would be strong enough now to help others be strong.
 And now I remember. I remember that searches give you an acute sense of how many compassionate people exist – their hearts big enough to give love to people they have never met.
 It amazes me every time. Today, more than 650 volunteers of all ages to came to Morgan Hill to help search, flier and promote fundraising efforts. 70 search teams were dispatched, extending the search radius to 20 miles from Sierra’s home.  Teenagers helped make signs and tie bows. Restaurants, grocery stores donated large amounts of food and water. The most passionate volunteers found themselves in significant roles within the Search for Sierra – whether that be making phone calls or braving poison oak as searchers.
 At searches, everyone is working toward something much, much bigger than themselves. And despite the ugliness that surrounds Sierra’s disappearance, searches remind you that there remains so much good in the world.
 I am in awe of the community that is pulling together for Sierra. I hope this sends a loud, clear message to the abductors, sex offenders, human traffickers, perpetrators, kidnappers, murderers and rapists – that they will not and cannot take our loved ones without a fight. That, if you take one of ours, we are not staying silent.
 From what I have learned, Sierra is a fighter – always sticking up for her friends, speaking her mind, relentlessly showing her loved ones that she cares for them. So, I pray that her community continues to show up for her the way she would for all of them. Together, we can and will bring Sierra home – whatever it takes.