Golden State Killer Survivors Exploited for Political Gain

It’s 4am as I start this because I can’t sleep. I’m so angry, it’s beyond my belief. I have to get this off my chest because what happened yesterday was absolute garbage. Regardless of your position on the death penalty, that’s not what this is about. No, it’s possible for everyone to have their own point of view on the death penalty. That’s how it works. What happened yesterday was not about the death penalty: it was about politics and we were used without our consent. (Disclaimer: written while triggered and sleep deprived. There are bound to be typos here.)

Think about that. Victims of the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist and the Original Nightstalker: now collectively known as the Golden State Killer Survivors, were once again victimized, in broad daylight, without any single member of the prosecution considering how we might feel about what went down yesterday.

I call it crashing thoughts. When my front brain can’t keep up with all the crap my back brain is processing.

Our gathering yesterday was weird. I’ll write it up, but I need to jump around a bit to explain what’s going on. I left the afternoon event yesterday feeling strange; like in my body. I felt anxious and sad and a feeling of dread, but I didn’t know what the feelings were attached to, so I called mom and rattled off the headlines. Typically when I make her listen to me (let’s call a spade a spade here, she rarely gets a word in edgewise), I can sort out my thoughts and feelings. Here’s what I shared with her:

The Planned Parenthood event moved me. Hearing stories from women and men about their healthcare journeys reinvigorated my commitment to female equality and the right to healthcare. The speakers discussed several laws being written today that are designed to take away a woman’s right to make decisions about her body. Decisions being made by politicians; not doctors and families. If you have never had a transvaginal ultrasound, you don’t get a vote in this one. I had several during fertility treatments. Nobody buys you a drink afterward. I understand this might sound like noise to some, but watch The Handmaid’s Tale if your imagination stops there.

Yesterday, I got to meet Mr. Harrington  for the first time. Just in front of the doors of the courtroom, he was talking to a large press gaggle and I assumed, “of course, it’s the first time he’s shown up here, makes sense.” He told the story of his murder – his brother and wife – and as he described it, I teared-up because the Harrington story is the closest to ours and his description was vivid and incredibly relatable for me. I’ve always identified with the Harrington case because the murders were so similar. I stepped away as I felt the tears coming. When Mr. Harrington emerged from the building, I introduced myself and cried again because I had looked forward to meeting him at some point. Remember, for me it’s been 20 years that this family has been part of my story. HBO was freaking everywhere with their cameras (that’s them in my photo from yesterday’s blog) and they captured our meeting on film. My feelings were authentic and if they use that tape, there will be no mistake it was real. At least for me.

The afternoon gathering was uncomfortable. As mentioned, HBO was there and I guess I didn’t realize ahead of time that they would be filming us. I thought they were there to do more background, but I’m an idiot. They were there to tape what we were talking about. Over the last year, this has been our safe space. We say all kinds of things that reflect the individual differences and the commonalities among us. You know when I talk about these gatherings, I do it broadly and make every effort to keep private information private. Every survivor is on their own journey and they deserve to share as they see fit. At least that’s been my commitment when writing. The worst part of the HBO project is that it will be subjective: meaning it’s entertainment. It’s not news and just like the McNamara book, it’s all about an outsider’s interpretation. So I remain dubious. I was taped and recorded. But I wasn’t at ease.

I met a new survivor couple and they were so warm. Bob and Gay joined us for the first time yesterday (they did not go to court). They were together during the attack and they are still together today – I’m not 100% positive but I think they are the only surviving “couple” to stay together. That alone was pretty incredible. But then I learned Bob is a lawyer. I locked in: for the first time, I could talk to a survivor who might have had the same thoughts my dad did during the attack. It was a powerful connection. I talked to Bob for a long time. I found it soothing. New Bob (my dad’s nickname was Bob, just to add to the kismet factor) is kind, thoughtful in his answers, and freaking in love with his wife, Gay. I won’t turn this into a therapy session, but he got in my head in many good ways.

The hearing yesterday was weird. Beyond weird. I wrote about how different it was last night and the number one thing we all talked about yesterday afternoon was that we felt shoved aside and irrelevant yesterday. Everything that happened in court was both a surprise and confounding. We spent a lot of time speculating yesterday about was really going on. But at that point, we didn’t have all the information.

As usual, mom was great. She listened, asked questions and helped me think more about what I’d experienced. But it wasn’t until I started writing last night, that I started to understand the big picture.

After lying in bed arguing in my damn head, it’s time to talk.

Yesterday was planned, staged and executed as a precursor to last night’s fundraiser and today’s press conference aimed at fighting the Governor of California and furthering the political careers of the District Attorneys. I’m not naïve. I knew this was coming. But I am incredibly angry that I was used yesterday, without my consent, in a political game that has nothing to do with us: the survivors. Let’s break it down.

Yesterday’s hearing wasn’t a hearing. It was a stunt.

We were unwitting victims of a political move and I did not consent. If we just take this one point and consider it: in and of itself, it’s shameful. I don’t care whose side you’re on or what your position is on the death penalty. Those things are not relevant to what happened here. The District Attorneys, mine included from Ventura, put together a “hearing” so they would have a platform for fundraising.

It started with our arrival. We were last into the courtroom. We’ve always been first. Sure lawyers might be there, but before they were incredibly respectful. Yesterday, they were front and center, so they’d be seen on camera, and amazingly, the judge agreed to let a lot of extra cameras in the room. We came in last to an unfamiliar and overwhelming scene of media and no seats set aside for us. We had to fumble and fit where there were seats left scattered about the tiny gallery. And if you don’t believe this was incredibly choreographed, at one point a camera man asked the couple I was sitting next to if they’d move because he couldn’t see them in his shot! They declined.

There were two motions ruled on – I remember the other one now – one was about pretrial publicity (dammit, I hate that now I’m thinking DeAngelo’s attorney might have a point), which the judge denied and the other was a very mysterious order of protection. We don’t know who needs to be protected but I found that intriguing. Then, in a weird move, the judge asked if there was an announcement and that’s when each DA stood and got their moment in the sun as they said they would seek the death penalty.

One by one.

Then the hearing was dismissed. The media was excused, and my Ventura-based legal team shook my hand and reassured me they were working hard.

We left the courtroom and without our knowledge, walked into a political media circus.

I was almost last out because I was talking with my Ventura folks. As I walked through the door, I saw an older man, in a suit, with a file folder, talking with the press. I was surprised it was such a big crowd but then I deduced it must be Mr. Harrington and he had never been to court before and I thought that was why the crush was on.

Golden State Killer Survivors Exploited by Politics in Staged Hearing
I managed to get around the gaggle and looked back to see if it was who I thought it was. I was pretty confident it was a Harrington. If only he had wanted to me us.

After I figured out it was him, I sat down with the others on the bench you can see behind him. Those are the survivors, sitting there, trying to figure out what was going on. I have no idea why they were sitting there but someone mentioned they were asked to when they came out. They became unwitting props in a production that didn’t bother to ask us if we wanted to participate. But again, we didn’t know any of this at the time.

Golden State Killer Survivors Exploited by Politics in Staged Hearing
See the women behind Mr. Harrington? Some of those women are survivors. They were placed there without understanding why.

When Mr. Harrington finally came outside, that’s when I introduced myself. I had left to talk with other media folks, so I don’t really know how long things went on inside and what was being discussed. I saw him, connected and then someone said to me, we’d like to have to join us at our big press conference tomorrow. A man with dark hair was pushing it and suggesting I come. He had no details other than today at 10am. I now know it’s the Death Penalty Moratorium Press Conference that will happen today at 10am in Sacramento. Again, this isn’t about the death penalty. It’s about politics and positioning District Attorneys – who are elected and therefore are politicians – as being tough on crime. Alas, I find it funny that the death penalty is where they want to hang their hats.

Let’s face it: the death penalty is the last phase in a conviction. It’s rare, expensive and only affects a handful of cases. Here’s some more factual information so you can see what crimes fall under the provision (this site appears to be neutral reporting of data). It’s always been weird to me that DAs want to hang their hat on the white elephant rather than the day to day stuff. But that’s me. I digress.

Why does my stomach ache and my head hurt.

As I drove home, and clearly mentioned on Twitter and on my blog last night, I felt sick. How was it that none of the survivors knew what was going down yesterday but one? How did the rich white man from Orange County, Mr. Harrington, who has never talked with us, just take over the narrative? How did the women and men, who’ve been coming to court for a year, sharing their stories, finding their courage, how did we become victim props for the DAs’ agenda?

Well, it turns out, yesterday in court was just part one of an integrated fundraising campaign being run by Crime Victims United. Just take a moment and delight in the cleverness of the name. United. As in, not you Golden State Killer guys, but us guys from places like Orange County. The GUYS united around a political platform that supports Devin Nunes and Dana Rohrabacher. And again, I will set this aside because I’m capable of living in a world with different opinions.

Golden State Killer Survivors Exploited by Politics in Staged Hearing
The fundraiser was last night. While I was struggling in my hotel room to figure out what happened, these folks are out using the case for fundraising. Would have been nice to know up front.

My District Attorney from Ventura was one of the speakers last night. They were specifically using the Golden State Killer case to raise money. I would have appreciated Mr. Totten telling me yesterday what was really happening and allowing me to then decide how I might want to participate – or not. Either way, this wasn’t about the victims. If it was, they would have been honest. They told none of us. Mr. Harrington was the only person (man) read in and they steamrolled the rest of us in pursuit of their personal agenda (as opposed to the collective agenda we survivors thought we were using).

Golden State Killer Survivors Exploited by Politics in Staged Hearing

Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture for a minute.

Our Ventura crime is on track. Clean, clear and DNA with a clean chain of custody. But many of the crimes DeAngelo committed are not being charged. This has been devastating for many of the survivors. Half of the time, we are merely supporting one another through the grief of not being part of the case while vicariously living through the charges that will stick. Remember Bob, the husband that was new yesterday? Their case can’t be made. There are others in the same boat – meaning, the police and DAs will not even talk with them anymore. They aren’t as relevant. It’s the cruel reality of American jurisprudence. But feelings don’t care about reality and people are human. The pain is real.

My point is, several victims have already had to eat a shit sandwich since DeAngelo’s been jailed. It’s beyond uncool to use any of us in this way. Furthermore, why did they hide their agenda from us? That’s the real question. I stood in front of Gary Totten and he said nothing. And they’d already pulled the trigger. They had their moment in court and Harrington was outside dropping the bomb. Did they think none of us would support their position? I know some of us who would have. But why ask a woman when there’s a rich, white man available? I bet some of you want to fight me on this but go back and read this again. He’s never, ever been to court. He hasn’t reached out to us. He showed up with his DA and left; making no real contact with any of us. If I hadn’t reached out to him, he wouldn’t have missed it.

I have always held Mr. Harrington in high regard. I worked in Northern California on Prop 69, which was funded by his family. The law passed requiring DNA from all convicted felons. It is a good law and it’s helping solve crimes. We share a horrible crime. I ignorantly thought we had a connection.

As for today’s press conference, it’s not about the Golden State Killer.

It’s about Gavin Newsom and politics and points of view and using a popular brand, GSK, to elevate their message. If you look at the list of participants, only Harrington is there as a GSK representative. I again ask why they chose him – and didn’t speak with anyone else that I know of – to participate in today’s press conference. In the context of #MeToo, white privilege and women being marginalized all over the place, politics once again defaulted to rich white men to control the narrative.

I’m going to talk more about this as it evolves. I want this group to pay for my week up here. My hotel, my food, gas. I was manipulated and played. Emotionally and financially. I came to what I thought was a hearing and instead it was political theater. I would have liked to know that ahead of time.

We are not fools. We are trusting. We’ve been honest and respectful and authentic. Frankly, my authenticity is all I have. I thought long and hard about what I’ve written here, but it’s too important to let slip through the cracks. I’m super interested in your opinion on how this is going down.

PS: now it’s 7:30am and it’s light outside. Happy Thursday. Talk to you on Twitter!

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10 thoughts on “Golden State Killer Survivors Exploited for Political Gain

  1. I can relate to your anger pretty well, I think.

    I was born with a visual impairment. My eyes are so bad, in fact, that I am by legal definition a handicapped person, even though I manage pretty well and work a regular office job (one where I read and write a lot, actually!).

    Handicapped people, like crime victims/survivors, are a group that frequently gets used and patronised by politicians, activists and all kinds of moral guardians. “Oh, you can’t be in favour of prenatal testing. Just think of how bad that makes handicapped people feel!” “See, we have to stop using certain words, otherwise handicapped people will be offended.” Et cetera. People love that kind of fake thoughtfulness, when in reality they are just embellishing their own point of view by claiming solidarity with a group of people who all supposedly think like them.

    I absolutely hate it when people – who aren’t even handicapped themselves – presume to speak on my behalf like that. It’s patronising, condescending and arrogant. The fact that some of these people actually mean well doesn’t make it any better. The point is, I have my own opinions on these issues, and I don’t need anyone to speak for me or protect my precious feelings, thank you very much.

    So, anyway, I suppose I can relate a little bit to how you feel.

    As for what happened at the hearing: sadly, I can’t say I am hugely surprised. This is such a high-profile case and will be such a high-profile trial that it’s bound to be used by some people – quite a lot of people, probably – to advance their careers and / or promote their political views. Lawyers, politicians, journalists… And many of them are actually nice people, and they genuinely care about you, but at the end of the day they care more about themselves. It’s just the way people are, I suppose.

    Good for you for speaking up and making it clear that you do not wish to be used like that. Because while it’s okay for them to have their own agendas (there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, I think), it’s not okay for them to exploit the survivors like that.

    On a happier note, I was very moved by your mention of Bob and Gay. One of the many things that always saddened me about this case is that so many of the couples the EAR terrorised split up afterwards – it seems that many men just couldn’t get over the trauma and the guilt of feeling like they failed to protect their loved one. It turns out that DeAngelo didn’t just kill 13 people (that we know of) and traumatise more than 50 women whom he raped, he also destroyed many relationships – beautiful, happy relationships of people who might still be together today if it hadn’t been for him. So I’m very happy to hear the story of Bob and Gay and the fact that they stayed together through all this. Kudos to them.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and reassuring me that life isn’t over if my eyesight becomes compromised (honestly a fear I have). And I agree, this is similar. Thank you also for understanding my point: it wasn’t that they did it, it was how they did it and I believe Orange County DA was really the problem here. He’s the one that was directing folks and being a jerk. I can’t wait to see Bob and Gay again. Another person said they are in Paris for the first time. They deserve it. I too share you excitement that somehow they stayed together. Yes, like glass, so much shattered.

  2. Great post Jennifer. These DAs will go from being the good guys to being disgusting. The flyer for the fundraiser is almost laughable if it wasn’t so foul. What idiot would pay to attend anyways? Everybody in CA knows that there isn’t going to be any executions in our state even before the Governor’s moratorium. And JJD doesn’t look like he has got that many years left anyways. So why are these DAs show boating? Its going to come back and bite them in the but. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that flyer doesn’t end up biting their butts someday too.

    Keep up the good work and insightful post and thanks for telling it like it is!

    1. Thank you Sylvia. I did find out some of the lawyers didn’t know what was going down both outside the courtroom and that night. Very interesting to me. Wonder what happens if they turn on one another. It would be awful. I hope they can figure out how to move forward without running us over again.

  3. Damn, what a gut punch. I naively thought this case would be the one where I saw victims front and center, being empowered. I did not see this coming. My stomach is sick for you guys while reading this.

    Like you said, both sides of the death penalty issue were treated very poorly yesterday. I don’t know the answer on how to remedy it, but I have long believed politics needs to be far removed from our judicial system. I had hope your cases would show the way.

    Is there anything that can be done such as a letter writing campaign? I’m just so frustrated.

    1. I have a blog – not done yet – with ways Wednesday could have gone done that would have been inclusive and still allowed them to pursue their agenda. I made my position known early just to avoid this BS. Every victim has their own opinion, would have been nice to let them be included rather than used. Thanks Kelli for the love. It really did catch me off guard.

  4. You need to make sure the Ventura County DA sees this – you describe it incredibly and so humanly well.   I am saddened that this happened.   It turns my stomach and I literally have no skin in this game.

    Victims of EARONS being used as pawns in political scheming.   It’s shameful.   I am so sorry this happened to you and the other victims of DeAngelo.   It’s wrong on so many levels.

    1. Interestingly, I got a call from someone I admire and trust. I told that person all of this and said read my blog. I believe it was eye-opening. Politics will be part of this as long as District Attorney’s are elected. I agree – politics has no place in law enforcement (she said like a damn idiot).

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