Court Date July 12 | Another Hearing and Meeting New Survivors

Sometimes we get so good at our jobs we can do them almost on autopilot. We don’t realize everyone else has no idea what we are doing or why we are going so fast. This was how Thursday went down. Fast, sloppy and almost chaotic. The slap-dash of serial rapist-murder hearings. 

I’m pretty sure the Sacramento heat is going to kill me. I know, I’m a damn broken record. It’s gotta be my age. I used to live there! Yet I remain a delicate flower. At least the hearing was set for 1:30 instead of 8:30am. I get it, it meant more heat but sleep was also a good thing. This time I had Katie in tow – my daughter – and I bored her to death preparing her for what was going to happen and who she was going to meet.

We drove up Wednesday from Santa Cruz. It’s about a three hour drive unless you leave later than you planned because your teenager doesn’t really understand the time-space continuum. Then, it’s a five hour drive. With pit stops and food and drink. We were going to see some people I hadn’t met before. Three folks in particular who’d spent much more time being active on the case than I. Jane Carson-Sandler was in town to do a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Citrus Heights. That happened on Monday and Debbie Domingo-McMullan was in town to support her. Carol Daly showed up as well. I didn’t make it up there that early, but they said they enjoyed it immensely and I think it got them fired up for the week ahead.

 First timers were everywhere.

We knew we’d have a big squad this time. And we did. We typically gather about 15 minutes before court and greet one another and catch up. That’s where I got to meet Jane, Debbie and, surprise for me, Margaret Wardlow! She was just 13 when that beast attacked her. They all looked amazing; vibrant, healthy, engaged. But while they managed their outward appearance in that moment, later we learned they were also wrestling with their demons. As I describe how this arrest has sent me back to my 18-year-old self bringing back memories that aren’t very pleasant, they too found themselves back at their early ages in that moment.

I don’t want to share their stories without permission, so let me share it in the aggregate. Making this arrest has taken us back. It’s made forty year old memories more vivid and brings up some of the vulnerability that goes with being younger. There’s something to be said for being a 50 year old woman. There is an ease at 50 that women talk about and it’s true. Being pulled back to a time when our innocence was ended by violence is pretty jarring. For me it means nightmares and fucked-up memories (yeah, just wait, I’ll be sharing them).

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This whole town is freaking under construction. The sidewalk was closed but we didn’t care. Move that Ditch Witch boys! We’re coming through!

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The media skillfully beats the heat and waits inside for us. Other folks were freaking out about all the cameras, “Why are they here!?” one woman cried out in a slight panic. It’s gotta feel weird to see all this when you’re there for a case that has nothing to do with our freak show.This hallway gave many pause. Especially the survivors who came who want to remain anonymous. Victim Services is good about getting us into the courtroom once everyone is through security. We hustled down the hallway and entered the courtroom. This time things moved very fast. We were seated quickly and then the press was allowed in. 60 Minutes Australia was there to film (I really need to see their version of Andy Rooney – “You know when you get those shrimp off the barbie and one doesn’t really look like a shrimp? What is that?” Please write your own joke here – or better yet, add to comments below!).

Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Normally, court has a process that helps us all understand what will happen next. With new folks with us, we had explained what would happen and I’ll be damned if the court didn’t make us liars this time. Debbie said she timed it: the whole thing lasted two and a half minutes. It was a cluster. They didn’t ask us to be quiet. They didn’t tell us to turn off our phones. Both are signals we are getting ready to start. No one announced the judge was in the room – he was in and started talking before I even got settled! DeAngelo appeared without warning. And that is rough when you are seeing him for the first time. A little warning is appreciated.

I was extremely disappointed to see he was handcuffed in front this time. I’ve been taking great satisfaction with his hands being cuffed behind his back. It’s like everyone was in a rush on Thursday. He seemed more at ease and a lot slimmer. I’m guessing the alcohol bloat is gone but there’s also less body. If he was a natural slim, it appears he’s getting back to his old self. I’m not even sure he knew what was happening it went so fast. His attorneys were there including Diane Howard.

Essentially the procedure (what is this part called?) was continued because the prosecution is still in the process of providing the defense evidence from discovery. We’ve had several folks confirm there was nothing recovered from the house, so what they heck is all this “deep” discovery about? One potential explanation is new jurisdictions with new cases and current jurisdictions with new cases. I just need to say one thing about all this: let’s not boil the ocean. Let’s do one and get it done and then we can prosecute more. Time is ticking people! This man has literally nothing to live for (except his family and that is really their journey, not his).

The defense also continues to object to press coverage. The judge continues to assert the public has a right to know. I continue to laugh thinking if you hurt over 100 people, you get what you deserve.

Walking out of the courtroom, we were greeted by a sea of cameras. This time it was for Debbie, Jane and Margaret. Katie was shocked by the momentum and frenzy. “Yup,” I told her, “every time.” We were asked to go over to the District Attorney’s office afterward so Katie and I broke away from the pack.

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I lagged behind to talk to a reporter-friend and missed some of the swarm.
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Because I was behind, these photos aren’t that great. Sorry!

District Attorney offices got dogs!

We walked over to the office and suffered poor white trash meltdown. My photo below with Reggie shows it. Katie’s pic is blurred. Clearly it was the heat-stroke (not the operator). We talked about the case and while I pumped them for information about where the trial might happen, they were successful in not giving away any scoops. While we were talking, Reggie, the wonder-poodle, came out to visit. He was super friendly and showed us his tricks. His subpeona delivery is on fleek (please accept my use of on fleek as my feeble attempt to pander to my younger readers).

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I’m so bummed this is out of focus. But that’s Katie!
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Look at that red face. My word!

Off to the after-party.

The big win for this week was the after-party. We met at the home of one of the squad and had a potluck barbecue that allowed us to share stories and meet even more people who’ve been impacted by DeAngelo. I’ve said it before but I never expected this chapter of our crimes and I must say, it’s the best. No judgments and no expectations, everyone is allowed to just be who they are and experience their healing in the way that works for them. Debbie had brought swag for us (see this blog’s cover photo for my new computer bag! thanks Debbie!).

Carol Daly (retired undersherriff) brought homemade ice cream that took me immediately back to my grandmother’s front yard on Palm Drive in Carmichael. Richard Shelby (retired investigator) and Todd Lindsay (producer from Unmasking a Killer) were there. It was a mellow, yummy good time. One of the interesting arguments we had was this stupid thing we (women?) where we compare who had it worse. Not in an effort to be the most harmed but instead, the way it works is to minimize our hurt because someone else’s is worse.

Every woman who has ever done this raise their hand. Men, now your turn. See, just a few men’s hands are raised. But women, I bet we’ve all done it.

The weird, twisted debate? Is it worse to be a rape survivor or a murder survivor? You know you’ve entered the land of weird when this is the debate. The rape survivors feel like we have it worse because our folks are gone – forever. We argue the rape folks have it worse because they had to live in fear their whole lives. I’ve decided we both win. Because if we are able to have this much compassion and empathy for one another, we are the winners.

Next court date is September 5th. Lots of stories to share with you before then.

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Turns out survivors eat good food! yum!
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Carol Daly – I consider her a kick ass feminist who changed the way we help rape victims.
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Richard Shelby, dedicated investigator.
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Todd Lindsay, producer of Unmasking a Killer. I was thoroughly impressed with his investigative work on the special.

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Privacy at Issue in DeAngelo Pretrial Hearing: Discuss

I sat in court on Tuesday, listening to arguments for the first time, as they apply to privacy, the search warrant, the search “return” (what they found) and three points of view – that of “the people,” which is the prosecution that doesn’t technically represent the victims but instead represents the state, that of the defendant, JJD and and in this case, that of the free press who have an attorney as well. As I listened to the arguments, I realize, I am incredibly biased in this case. So I’ll sit with that and do my best to call out when my bias is in play.

Request: As you read this blog, think about these arguments and then leave me a comment. I’d love to know how you see these issues. We’ll find out what the judge rules shortly

It’s interesting to me this case is starting with something so powerful: what should be kept private and what do we, the people, have the right to know when it comes to suspect DeAngelo and his arrest and the subsequent search warrants? This is really at the core of what we stand for as a society. The right to a fair trial, the right to due process and the right to be innocent until proven guilty. I’ve grown up bathed in these tenants, believing them to be vital to a democracy and to be perfectly honest, essential if anyone I loved was ever charged with a crime.

Privacy means sessions are in camera!
The lawyers are privately making their arguments about EACH PIECE OF DATA which is why this is taking so long.

But what if I am a victim?

That’s a term I still have a hard time using. Smith family members aren’t victims. We just aren’t. And yet, we are. This changed our lives. A bad guy took something from us we can’t get back and he ravaged our loved ones with savage disregard – like an alcoholic who doesn’t realize how much he’s had to drink. My dad and Charlene were just another “fix” for his insane compulsion. I wonder if he even remembers the crime?

The arguments on Tuesday were interesting. The prosecution had little to day. We couldn’t see their written motions but they seemed to be fairly aligned with the media requests – with some exceptions. They were for sure wanting to make sure victim names were protected except in the case of the murders – because deceased individuals don’t have the same rights.

The media lawyer, Duffy Carolton, is working on behalf of the AP, New York Times, ABC and other media outlets (there was a list and I didn’t get it all down) and she argued the public has a right to know and also release this information can serve the public and the victims as well. I actually pulled her aside to clarify this point. More about this below. In a nutshell, the media wants as much as it can get.

The defense wants nothing out there. Not. A. Thing. Their assertion is anything that’s published with taint a future jury. [Yes, they said the word taint dozens of times and those of us who are not that mature managed to stifle our giggles that something this serious would hinge on a word that appears in the Urban Dictionary. I’m such an idiot that I explained that to Duffy who is clearly more of a grown-up than I am because she didn’t know the colloquial meaning. I’m so proud of myself.] They argued that there is a national bestseller out there that will absolutely bias potential jury members and sharing anything from the search warrant process will add further damage.

Let’s dive into this a bit more.

The challenge with this whole discussion is that is based on principle not pragmatism. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges in face in America. Let me explain. Many years ago I had a chance to visit Israel. I didn’t have a lot of time and my host took me on a tour of Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa after dark. The juxtaposition of the old (Jaffa) and the new (Tel Aviv) really struck me. I asked my guide how Israel was able to build such a modern city in such a short time.

He explained, “In America, you have the luxury of time. You talk about ideas and principle and that often prevents you from getting things done. In Israel, we are pragmatic. We need to get things done. We care about principle and it’s something we discuss, but it does not prevent progress.” I never forgot that story. It’s helped me repeatedly over the years when I’ve been stuck on a principle when I’ve needed to be pragmatic instead. I’m literally applying that rule to my life right now by signing these damned separation papers from being laid off – even though I know what they are doing is wrong (principle), the reality is I need to move on and put this behind me (pragmatic). Yes, I am signing them today.

If we consider this case and embrace the principle while becoming pragmatic, some of these arguments fall apart.

  • The jury could be tainted.
    When you hurt dozens of people, it’s going to be tough to prevent folks from knowing what you’ve done. The defense is worried about the best seller but let’s be honest here, there are lots of books out there. They are all inaccurate in places. In fact, because this has gone on for decades, it’s pretty likely there’s as much bad information as there is good information out there. So this jury is going to have to act like any other jury and drop their assumptions at the door and listen to the evidence. That’s it. He chose to allegedly ransack, rape, kidnap and murder. Those action have consequences including media attention which he clearly sought. Pragmatically, let’s move on, this is what it is.
  • Time matters in this case. 
    The defendant is old. His victims are aging (even me!). Time isn’t going to favor anyone in this process and if things are dragged out, the victims are the ones who are most likely to suffer. We need to move with some speed here. One of the things I’ve heard repeatedly from my fellow survivors is their need to be reconnected with “their stuff” – even if it’s only to know they found it on his property. The rapes can’t be prosecuted, but they can be validated. It would mean everything to a potential victim I spoke with to know her Driver’s License is in his possession. Her file has been lost, her rape kit gone and finding anything that connects him with her rape would give her the answers she’s sought for 38 years. I asked others and they share this point of view. If we have to wait for a trial – that won’t even include the rapes – they won’t get the answers they need.
  • Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
    The reality is, whatever they found in that house doesn’t matter. I mean it does – it DOES – but it doesn’t when it comes to proof of guilt. That’s because we have a DNA match for Ventura. As far as I’m concerned, the rest of the evidence is confirmation and validation. Spending all this time on privacy in this case, feels like we are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It isn’t particularly relevant. Other than protecting the identities of the victims, I can’t see why we shouldn’t see it all. The mere fact that there has been so much information almost requires some facts at this point.

Today we should see what is being released.

It’s taken over a month (you can see my little incarceration clock on the upper right of this blog). The lawyers for all three positions are going through each piece of information and agreeing, disagreeing and then the judge is deciding. We expect to get some kind of list with redactions but I hope there aren’t too many. It could be a hot mess. I’m not in court today – I’m finally back home – but I’ve made friends with some of the reporters and I’ll get a text when news breaks.

Meanwhile, I’m interested in your point of view on this process. What do you think? Please leave me a comment. I really enjoy the discussion.

2:3opm UPDATE: The judge has ruled to unseal anything pertaining to the murders and to keep sealed anything relating to the sex crimes (for now). We need to see what’s released, that’s coming very soon. Stand by!

 

 

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Teen Driving: How We Shot Ourselves in the Head in California

At some point – and I could go figure out when this happened but it pretty much doesn’t matter – we took Driver’s Education out of our schools. Stupidest move ever.

If you aren’t aware, here’s how our kids learn to drive today.

1. They take an online course to get a certificate. This is a joke because it can be gamed and passed really easily. So the only kids learning at this point are the ones who are earnest and naive.

2. They study for their learner’s permit, this is the written test at the DMV. Again. super easy. There are so many videos and online tests you are really in trouble if you can’t memorize enough to pass the test.

3. Immediately, upon obtaining the learner’s permit, they have to take one hour (of six hours total!) of driving instruction from a licensed driving instructor. After their first hour, they can start driving with you, their licensed adult over age 25.

4. They drive with you – or a reasonable facsimile. (There’s a whole blog here to be written about who gets to drive with the learner based on temperament, skill and tolerance for anxiety and bickering. Pisces were born for the job. For everyone else, this is why we drink.)

Step 4 is very important and here’s why.

You know when you scream asshole at that person who blew through the yield sign causing you to slam on your brakes? Or the sonofabitch who cut you off on the freeway after they tailgated you for the last three miles? Or dipshit who thinks 30 miles per hour is too fast and so they serve as an illegal pace car for everyone else. Or the person who is on their phone or eating or doing their make-up or parked badly or …. you get the point. THAT’s who’s teaching our next generation to drive. Seriously. Bad drivers are responsible for future drivers. Think about that.

5. They log five more hours with their professional driving teacher. We supposedly had the best person from the shabby mix in Santa Cruz. Her advice, “Katie should park closer to the curb.” She also told my kid I had painted my license plate so traffic cameras couldn’t record my information. Um yeah, no. They are just old. Why would she say something so stupid? She also said don’t go to the Watsonville DMV – more bad advice. They turnsed out to be the nicest people at the most positive DMV I’ve ever been to! I love those people (and I’ve been back with another kid and just as nice)!

6. They take their driving test. And an amazing amount of them are passing on first try. It’s an eight minute test; typically with one “gotcha” that we all know about because we talk to the people who’ve recently taken the test. And there you go. Instant driver.

Only here’s the thing. This is so stupid.

They have no common understanding. In the olden days, when we had driver’s ed, we all learned the same things. We all knew the rules, the consequences and there was agreement among all teens on how things worked. That’s just gone. Gone, gone, gone.

Now their skills depend now on how parents interpret the rules. Kids are 100% learning by example so if you use your cell in the car, guess that they do. If you swear at other drivers (oops, me), guess what they do. That tailgating that’s your bad habit? It’s theirs too. They can’t even support each other because they don’t have a common understanding.

They have no collective sense of consequences. They all have heard us tell them what can go wrong, but I’m convinced their sense of immortality causes them to dismiss it as soon as they hear it. But remember when we watched hours of car wrecks and stupidity – together – so at least it was recorded in our brains? They get none of that. We attended a workshop put on by the CHP – it was good – but I could see it just wash over the kids. Because they only saw it once; in one 90 minute class.

Adaptation to change is left to our interpretation. I’m convinced driving is harder today than its ever been and as adults, we’ve adapted accordingly (but not uniformly or with any training). More cars. More poorly trained drivers. Complex dashboards, Cell phones. I don’t think we’ve done a great job but at least we have driving experience on our side. These kids could actually use four months of class time to understand all this complexity, and instead, we’ve eliminated it.

And then there’s the gift of provisional driving. They aren’t supposed to drive with other kids for the first year of their license. This is a corollary misdemeanor from what I can figure out. Corollary because they aren’t stopped for having kids in the car. They have to be stopped for some other offense and then get cited for the provisional driver violation. I think some lawmaker thought this law would cut down on teen accidents. Maybe it has (you can review the study – it honestly looks like too many variables are co-mingled to really get to an answer).

The truth is – at night, I want my daughter to have someone else with her when she drives. I like the extra pair of eyes on the road and a buddy to keep her safe as she walks to the football game or store.I spent a lot of time letting her drive with friends in the car during permit time because I wanted her to learn how to ignore them and focus on driving. Fingers crossed she grokked it.

So what’s my recommendation?

We need to put drivers ed back in school. I can’t figure out why our insurance companies aren’t paying for this (if we want to play follow the money). They have the means and it would save them big bucks ultimately to have these kids all on the same page.

Then I say keep the provisional driver stuff but allow one other person in the car because we might actually get more compliance. Teens don’t do stuff alone. Make a law that instantly turns them into violators is nuts.

Finally – and I know this will shock everyone – when a teen goes through drivers ed, use that time to refresh parent’s driving skills (maybe they get $50 discount on insurance for attending a refresher course). We will still be sitting next to them during the permit months. Wouldn’t it be good if we were reminded of all the things we’ve forgotten since we started driving? Who goes first at a four-way stop? Are you allowed to pass a bicyclist on the right if you have to cross a double yellow on the left? Can you have liquor in the car if you aren’t drinking it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. It’s been a hot button for me. Please let me know what you think!

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights: Five Family Films that will Foster Discussion

Today, around the world, bloggers are coming together to write about a single topic: Human Rights. An online event sponsored by Bloggers Unite, this effort is intended to “shine a light” on a single topic with different – lets face it millions of – perspectives from all over the globe.

When my daughter finally ends up in therapy, my mom assures me it will be because I talked her to death. I am a communications major and I love to talk. And one of the best parts of parenting is having the opportunity to have great discussions with my daughter – we talk about everything – and one subject that comes up a lot in our household is human rights.

It takes many forms and contexts, but the essential underlying theme is that all people deserve to be free – to be able to speak freely, pursue religion as they see fit and have their basic needs met – food, water, safety. Many of our discussions have happened while watching movies. As avid Netflix members, we have family movie night on Friday and Saturday nights.

Family Movie Night: Dinner and Debate

Gramma comes over, we make a good “picnic” dinner and settle in for a family film. We usually allocate about three hours because I am notorious for hitting the pause button to stop and explain what is happening, why it happens and get Katie’s perspective on what she’s seeing. This process tends to drive my mom a bit crazy, but the overall result is I have a child who understands things on a very “connected” level. And I see her bring this wisdom to the events that happening in her eight-year-old world.

So, I sat down with her last night and talked about some of the best movies we have watched and asked her which ones made lasting impressions. There have been so many, but we decided to choose our top five. We hope you watch them with your kids – and I encourage you to look at the reviews on Common Sense Media to make sure they are a fit with your values and to make you aware of what subjects may come up. Four of the links provided for each movie will take you there.

Our Top Five “Discussion” Films (in no particular order)

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Surprise! Aside from this being one of my all time favorites, it turns out there’s a rather interesting back story with the Nazi’s pursuing the Ark. We stopped during the movie to talk about Nazi Germany, the war and who owns national treasures. We also ended up discussing the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban as an example of how some people don’t respect the values of others.

Pride

Based in fact, this story is about an African American swimmer, Jim Ellis, who deals with discrimination in different ways. The story is inspirational if not aggravating at times as it shows how race was perceived in the 1970s. We ended up having a great discussion about how man (humans) can be so cruel to one another and that we all have a responsibility to stand up when we see something bad happening. I think Katie got the concept of just because everyone does it and condones it, does not make it right.

Bend It Like Beckham

This one is great for girls (boys too) as it shows the contrast between cultures and the struggles many kids have when their parents believe in one thing and the kids they live with every day believe in something else. For us, this lead to an interesting talk about doing what you believe is right despite what your parents’ tell you to do. Is it okay to lie? What if it is for the right reasons? I believe teaching Katie to be a critical thinker is essential to helping her fight for what she believes in, including the rights of others. This movie gave us a chance to talk about values, principles, behavior and having the guts to stand by her convictions.

Pursuit of Happyness

Based on a true story, this looks at homelessness, parenting and the struggle one can have when things aren’t going well. It also demonstrates human kindness, perseverance and the power of the parent/child relationship. We talked a lot about compassion when we watched this movie. We see the homeless is our own town and some of them have children in tow. Like most kids, Katie is compelled to help. So I have given her a way to take action. I help her give her old toys and clothes to the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center and we donate regularly to the Second Harvest Food Bank. She understands we are lucky to have what we have and she feels good about sharing what we have.

Ruby Bridges

Another movie based on reality, this is a great movie about the strength of a small girl, her parents and how her strength helped change our culture. We ended up Googling the woman, Ruby Bridges, after the movie desperate to learn more about what she had become after living through such an incredible childhood. Ruby is one of the first children to attend a white school in Louisiana at the request of the NAACP. The movie is awesome as it tells the story in a way that older children will understand. Katie and I talked about racism, courage, fear, anger and honor as we watched her story play out. This is a great movie to watch with the whole family.

Do you have movies you would add to this list? I would love to hear about it. We are always looking for new movies to watch and discuss. Please add a comment and let me know!

PS: not every family movie night is mommy propaganda time – we also watch the fun ones like Ratatouille, Enchanted and Jurassic Park!