Post-Court Gathering | Golden State Killer Survivors and HBO

Today I got my hands dirty planting some tomatoes and strawberries with the hope they will flourish. I used to be a great gardener, but the teen years and work pushed my avocation to the side. Well baby, I’m back. I read a beautiful quote from Virginia Woolf this morning (and good lord no, I don’t wake up on Saturdays and read classic literature! I was at Starbucks and it was on a cup). It said, “I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.” We all need spring.

Post-Court Gathering | Golden State Killer Survivors and HBO
Oh sure I quote Woolf, but the reality is I take a photo of the Robin Williams quote.

Survivors, an incredible garden and HBO.

With court ending so oddly, we were a little bit all over the place (that’s probably just my perspective, we tend to squad and I’m a notorious loner until I get to a place). After the Orange County energy left, I wrapped up talking to a few reporters before I hit the road. You guys know I love journalism and I really enjoy talking with them about the case and what they are hearing.

We met at the same home with the incredibly manicured and curated garden we visited last fall. The garden has all these little mini-garden vignettes and I could play there all day. In fact, let me take this moment to announce I’m seeking a husband that loves gardening, photography and animals. Take that universe – I’ve officially put it out there. The overall effect of this lush place is calm.

Outside the front door, there was a sign posted by HBO. I had been told they would be there but at no point did they talk about filming. Based on that, I made a poor assumption: I didn’t realize they were coming to film. Duh. Some of the survivors had already been interviewed by HBO. I have not. I’ve met with the writer and a few other folks have called, but that’s about it. I’ve been constantly advocating for a female point of view on the story, but let’s face it: it’s entertainment and they need to produce something that will sell. I stupidly thought they were there for background and research.

Post-Court Gathering | Golden State Killer Survivors and HBO
This was the sign they had right outside the front door.

HBO hosted a late lunch for us, and it was lovely.

There were tables set up with flower arrangements that made the event seem much more formal. I immediately noticed the camera and HBO folks everywhere and I quickly figured out we weren’t going to be able to talk freely. When I walked in, the camera crew was with a couple I didn’t recognize. I later learned they were Bob and Gay, a still married couple, and this was their first time joining us. They did not go to court. They were basically putting their toe in the water but, HBO interviewed them, so you’ll learn more about them when the film comes out.

Post-Court Gathering | Golden State Killer Survivors and HBO
Tables arranged in the backyard looked lovely.
Post-Court Gathering | Golden State Killer Survivors and HBO
The cameras were on! The first thing I saw when I walked in.

I mentioned Bob before. I really felt connected to him since he is a lawyer who survived an attack. He was mellow and warm, and you could see the rapport that exists between him and his wife. For me, having them there was very meaningful.

Unintended consequences might be featured on HBO.

As I mentioned in another blog, we didn’t know what was going to happen in court that day and we really didn’t know why we were treated differently. As a result, that was much of the conversation. We talked about how most of the chairs in the courtroom were taken and why weren’t allowed in first (like normal) and that there was so much media there. It’s so funny how habit works because that’s how our expectations were set – by what’s happened before. Not being able to sit together threw us for a bit of a loop. It was much of our discussion at the lunch. I’m thinking HBO must have recorded a lot of that conversation.

We didn’t stay all that long. The incredible Carol Daly once again made her delicious ice cream and we got to play with a chocolate lab puppy that’s a new resident at the house. Overall, the vibe was so off on Wednesday, that’s why I needed time to sort out my thoughts. I’ve always been so protective of our privacy and now, as we all should have known, we’ve hit a pivot.

From politics to monetization, we are all making the best decisions we can.

The other thing that’s starting to be more apparent, is how each of us is moving through our “personal journey”. I know that’s a hackneyed term, but you get what I mean. I write and (sometimes) podcast. I’m trying to figure out if I can monetize my website, but honestly, it’s not very important to me. I’m much more interested in my readers and how we can possibly help one another heal.

Some of us have agents and are interested in doing speaking. I think that’s awesome. I suspect we’ll all hear more about this going forward and I hope the community will support folks as they venture out. Screw DeAngelo. If survivors can get something positive from this – so be it. I trust this group can handle our individuality along with our common cause.

Post-Court Gathering | Golden State Killer Survivors and HBO

Couldn’t resist adding this pic – I got out of the car, started walking inside the hotel and I heard something. Never let the turkeys get you down! This is at the Marriott compound near Cal Expo. I suspect the high rivers have pushed them out.

I Have a Horse in this Race | The California Death Penalty

I was probably a preteen when I first discussed the death penalty with my dad – he was against it. He’d actually tried a death penalty case (the guy was guilty) and interestingly enough, Lyman had figured out there was a way to potentially get him off based on a technicality. But, as I understand the story, instead he pursued a vigorous defense and the guy was still convicted (they had him dead to rights I guess). Ironically, no one remembers if he got the death penalty or not.

Today Gavin Newsom stopped executions for now in California.

I could not be happier about this. I don’t think the death penalty serves any purpose other than showcasing our inhumanity. [Yes, I can already hear you saying, “But these people aren’t human!” You might be right, but I’m talking about us.] With DeAngelo in a cage, believe me, I know that argument well. As I sit there, staring at him, my eyes burning into the back of his head, it’s like I’m trying to jiggle The Force to try and figure out how a human could hurt so many other humans.

I’m sure this action will upset a lot of people and as I straddle the line here, I get it. I think the Polly Klaas case is one many of us in the Bay Area shared our feelings with Ronn Owens who aptly admitted he wasn’t pro-death penalty but Richard Allen Davis was a unadulterated piece of shit who needed to be put down. Fun fact: if you go look at that link about Davis, you’ll see why this led to California passing a three strikes law. This case was beyond sickening and picturing him dead satisfied a lot of feelings. But it didn’t bring Polly back.

“California’s modern history reflects a population that recognizes that the criminal justice system has been too harsh on the poor and minorities.”

That’s from today’s LA Times. And it rings true. Nothing demonstrates the inequities in the system than last week’s sentencing of Paul Manafort, which seems relatively light compared to this woman who voted by mistake. There’s a reason justice has a blindfold on; justice should be fair. But the death penalty is one way justice isn’t fair.

The death penalty isn’t helping anyone.

I want to be incredibly pragmatic about this.

It’s expensive. The special circumstances in the case against DeAngelo is one thing driving up the cost. I can’t factor out that extra expense, but if we use this data, someone who is good at math can maybe extrapolate what percentage of the estimated $21 million is due to the death penalty.

In a 2012 study of the costs of capital punishment in California, it was determined that on average, death penalty cases involved 120 more court days than non-capital cases at a rate of $3,589 per court day for an additional cost of $430,680 per case. California estimated that it costs an additional $90,000 per year to house a death row inmate. A California study concluded that due to appeals the average time from conviction to the filing of a federal habeas corpus had risen to nearly five years from 1.5 years in 1979.

read more…

It consumes resources. Every lawyer working a death penalty case, is no longer available to work on other cases. In addition, it’s likely to be our best lawyers who really understand criminal law, who are defending these folks.

It treats Death Row inmates differently. They’re on Death Row and so they get a private cell, private yard time and privileges. This has been a hot button for me. I want DeAngelo in the general population, not on some private Row with privacy. Nope, these jerks (think Scott Peterson) deserve to have to negotiate with other prisoners. I would love to watch DeAngelo try his “angry old man” act on a 24 year old who’s got no time for that.

And finally….

The Death Penalty doesn’t do what it’s intended to do. It’s supposed to be a deterrent to committing crimes. As we know with DeAngelo – who was a cop! – he knew what the death penalty meant. He was extremely aware. But he gave no f-cks. None.

Instead, the death penalty makes us culpable. It doesn’t bring back our loved ones. It doesn’t give us closure – how can killing someone heal anyone? We can’t meet cruelty with cruelty. If we do, how are we different? Pretending there’s a moral high-ground disappears once death is evoked. And God forbid, we execute someone who is innocent – that’s a risk we should be unwilling to take (but DeAngelo is guilty – we have DNA baby).

I spoke with Sister Helen Prejean on Twitter once. I squealed with glee when she messaged me back. Her work is amazing and there are many resources on her site. I encourage you to click around and see what you think.

Thank you Gavin, you might have just saved the state millions on our case alone.

I have a call into my Ventura folks to see what this means for the case. We’re heading back to court on April 10th in Sacramento. I’ll be there.

Busted | Five Myths About the Smith Family

It’s no secret you know I grew up in a household of Democrats. My dad was fierce about justice for all, equality, civil rights and human rights. He was sexist as hell but after that, I saw him out in the community as a fair man committed to community and hard work.

It’s no surprise that when I finally caught up with all the talk about the murders and the years y’all spent investigating and researching to find our perp, I was truly surprised by the impressions folks had of our family and about dad and Charlene.

Here are the hot five myths that I’ve found most challenging.

Dad and Charlene were no way close to a “golden couple”.

Myth busting: The Smith Family
Absolutely ordinary. No name brands here.

Here’s the deal. My dad started, um, sleeping with Charlene before my parents were divorced. I know there are things that have been written that said my dad was like, oh no, I’m not interested. But that’s not true. Their relationship was nearly a cliché in that it was an “up and coming” successful lawyer who decided to get down with his law secretary who was ten years his junior. This not only crushed my mom, but it also crushed Charlene’s husband. For a thousand reasons, romanticizing their relationship just isn’t right. It was messy, normal, selfish and loud.

We were not affluent.

I know this will likely bum people out, but it just wasn’t true. That doesn’t mean my dad didn’t have status, he did. But we lived in a small town. In 1980, the whole county had just 500K people representing 2% of the state. We were known in Ventura and Santa Paula because my dad was extremely active in the community. He was often in the newspaper. But we weren’t wealthy. At my mom’s house, we lived very frugally. My dad paid little child support. It might surprise you to know he had saved nothing for his kids’ education. Also, there was no “estate” that we inherited. The money we got came from life insurance and it essentially saved us.

Myth busting: The Smith Family
New house, new tract house. A lot of these are gone now because of the huge fires a few years ago.

The house was unbelievably regular.

There’s so much talk about this wonderful house on a hill. It was a tract home in a new tract that dozens of folks lived in. It was rare to have a tract in the Ventura hills. The expensive homes were the one-offs that line the foothills of downtown Ventura. And then there was Ondulando where the rich people lived. Those were fancy houses and one of dad’s law partners lived there. Our house was as regular as the houses in Sacramento – that’s one thing that intrigued me is how much our house looked like the others.

The police knew Charlene was raped on Sunday, March 16, 1980.

It’s weird what happened the days and weeks following the murder. I am absolutely clear, because of my conversation with Dr. Speth, that investigators knew Charlene was raped. This makes me wonder why they put me through the lie-detector test. It’s interesting, because Speth also said the evidence ruled-out Joe Alsip but other players didn’t care, they wanted to prosecute regardless. I’m so tired of stories about our justice system that are more about a conviction than actual justice. Wrongly accusing someone is unacceptable. I know it can happen, but in this case, there was no reason other than mens’ egos.

There’s nothing about these murders that is romantic.

From a very popular website,

Charlene was a vivacious, slightly femme fatale, figure. Less charitably, perhaps, a cut rate gold digger. The papers noted that she was Lyman Smith’s “attractive wife.” No one who saw her would not think that. She was indeed a lovely woman. She went from being Lyman’s secretary to his second wife. She was on the fringes of Bohemia and wanted much more. She sold jewelry at fashionable Tupperware type parties. Her own personal jewelry was far superior. She was also an interior decorator. Their High Point house was immaculate and elegant, though the furniture was imitation.

Here we go – this is a hot mess. What impression to you get of Charlene based on this? Sure, it’s sexist and has some trigger words in here, “gold-digger”, “fashionable”, and “elegant”. Holy cow. But what really gets me is the tone. For some reason, when folks write about them, they cast things in salacious terms with plenty of hyperbole. And I assure you, our furniture was real. I have no idea what the heck “imitation furniture” is.

Here’s another passage that’s just nuts:

Lyman never met a business deal he didn’t like, whether it be gold and jewelry import or livestock export to Iran; real estate, whatever, if there was a possibility of riches there was Lyman.

My dad didn’t import jewelry or gold, he did have a livestock and real estate venture, but the last phrase is just bunk. My goodness.

And finally, a legacy I inherited that’s just a bunch of garbage. This passage is a classic example of how their existence was turned into something unreal.

Venturans received the news of the double slaying in the Monday editions of the Star-Free Press. The headline read: “Lawyer, wife found slain in Ventura home.” It ran with a photo of the couple — Charlene with her Miss America smile, Lyman with a twinkle in his eye.

Good lord, “Miss America smile”? I get it, it’s a metaphor, but it’s tone deaf. Charlene was an ethnic Jew. There’s no way in 1980 she could be a Miss America. In fact, there’s only been one Jewish woman, Bess Myerson, who has won. That was in 1945 and the timing is interesting because of WWII. As for the “twinkle in my dad’s eye”, that’s not reporting. That’s assigning feelings and there’s no way this reporter knows anything about whether or not that was a twinkle. She never met him in person.

Many of us have had to deal with our story being documented in ways that aren’t true. It’s maybe one of the things we talk about most among the survivors. We aren’t naive. We understand there are people who want to tell the story. The key to telling a good story is fact checking and not characterizing people you don’t know. Also, there’s been way too much trust in non-related people’s point of view. Unfortunately, those people are identified as tertiary and disconnected from the bigger picture. It happened in McNamara’s book and Larry Crompton’s book. My god, it’s the whole basis for Anne Penn’s book.

So Jen, what do you want from folks?

Myth busting: The Smith Family
Me looking concerned. Thought it fitting for this part of the blog.

Fair question. I have three things I think would make a difference going forward:

  1. We all have an obligation to be truthful and if speculating, to name it.
  2. Reporters, writers, anyone telling the story, need to do better. They need to weigh the information they get based on who they are getting it from. Several articles refer to Hal Barker as my dad’s best friend. I’m not sure who decided that. Hal, Harold when we knew him, was a great guy and super close to my dad but I wouldn’t call him his best friend. There’s someone else who fit that bill. Harold had his own mess he was dealing with. When I see the things he’s said to reporters, I think his comments seemed colored by what he was going through.
  3. Friends, witnesses, associates need to be careful about what they say. That quote it going to have your name on it. Be truthful and if you don’t know, admit it. When you give “deep background” that still is only from your point of view. Own that.

Alright, I’m pushing my soapbox back under the bed. Thank you for understanding.

Today I Saw Joseph DeAngelo, The Golden State Killer, In Person for the First Time

I knew it would be tough to sleep. I felt the dread building into the evening and so I decided half a Xanax would help. Not so much. When the clock flipped to 1:30am, I was still talking to myself. I need sleep. I have to be up early. I was afraid the alarm wouldn’t ring; the traffic into Sacramento would be awful, I’d be late and miss the whole thing. At some point after that, I finally fell asleep. Morning came fast.

My instructions were to meet my Victim Services person at 8:15am at the H Street garage. Somehow I managed to get there a few minutes early and that gave me a chance to get a bit nervous. Ann showed up on time and away we went, to Superior Court, Department 61.

That says Sacramento County Main Jail!

I didn’t realize the court room was part of the jail. I was whisked through security, reminded to turn off my cell phone and walked down a long hall full of reporters. As I snaked my way down the hall, I could hear regular people asking the reporters what the heck was going on.  “East Area Rapist case,” was the typical response. It was 8:25am when we walked through the doors of the courtroom. Inside were only victims/survivors (I’m going to need a really good name for the fierce folks who were part of this group).

I wanted to notice as many details as possible.

The courtroom was small. I found a photo online but our room had the reverse orientation – we were seated on the right and the cage (!) was on the left side of the room. It was outfitted in standard 1970s decor (real wood? fake wood?) and utilitarian carpet. Large calendars were on the wall with days marked out – holidays, weekends. A clock was on the left near the back wall and I watched the time slowly move amid the commotion.

I was in the first seat in the front row. Seated next to me was the woman who was raped on June 18th. I don’t remember her name, but I will always remember her face. She was simply beautiful. She was also nervous and she brought her best friend for moral support (she actually said “moron support”, which was a laugh we really needed). I met a close friend of Debbie Domingo who I need to know more about (note to Debbie!). She was a spitfire and brought photos of the victims to hold up. There were two more folks next to her and again, in the melee, I didn’t hear names very well. Either way, I’d protect their privacy here anyway.

We were ready.

Everyone else was held outside until a little before 9am. The attorneys trying the case, the prosecutors, introduced themselves. [I am going to find out their names because they told us but we didn’t have a way to write things down. I will update when I get the names.] She was dressed in a black sheath dress and a jacket and simple string of pearls. I noticed because it was in contrast with DeAngelo’s attorney who was in a red sweater/jacket, black slacks and silver necklace. They both looked very put together and prepared. [Honestly, I want to smack myself for commenting on the women’s attire – but I found the fashion choices interesting and clearly intentional.]

The most striking thing in the room was the cage. You can see it in the courtroom photo (here’s another angle, his wheelchair is in front of the cage here).  It is an imposing site. It’s a cage with a lock on the front that needed a key to open the barred door. The bars were thick steel and then, as if someone said, “Can’t we make this fit the motif?”,  some paneling was added to the sides so, you know, it would bring the whole room together. The cage was empty and it was intimidating. I couldn’t imagine what kind of criminal would need something so substantial. Unless someone was mid-Meth trip, I couldn’t imagine someone needing that level of security.

As members of both legal teams, bailiffs and court staff moved easily from the courtroom to the backroom, we assumed that’s where DeAngelo would come from. I thought they would walk him out and lock him in the cage and we’d get started. But I was wrong.

DeAngelo enters the courtroom.

The bailiff read the rules (no noise, cameras, recordings, cell phone noises, etc) and in a jiffy, the judge entered the court. I’m not sure what he said because suddenly the lawyers for the defense jumped up, moved toward the cage and that’s when I realized there was a door that opened into the cage and it was through that door, DeAngelo entered.

The defense team used their bodies to create a wall between DeAngelo and us. All I could see at first was what appeared to be orange Crocs (actually, you can see them here when he was wheeled in before).  He was standing. I followed the bright, orange shoes up the matching orange legs and then couldn’t see anything. He was effectively blocked. At the same moment I heard that door open, I had grabbed for the hand of the brave woman sitting next to me. I knew it had to be horrifying to see him there, in front of her, after all these years. We held hands the whole time.

The judge listed off what seemed like a rather significant number of motions and responses and one caught my attention. There was a lawyer there representing the media: I believe the New York Times, the American Broadcasting Company and possibly others (news stories are mentioning others). They are working to make sure nothing is redacted from what was found during the searches of his home. But more about this later.

Finally, the male attorney moved and I was able to see DeAngelo’s profile. There he was. Just a man. An old, craggy-faced man who didn’t look pleasant. He looked angry. He had whiskers on his face and he shoulders where slightly stooped. His mouth barely moved when he whispered to his female attorney. She appeared to be soothing him and making a point of touching him and talking very close. It appeared intimate and it nauseated me. There’s nothing in the lawyer handbook about mothering your client. I mean sure, someone go check the index, but I’m 99% sure it’s not there.

And then as quick as it started, it was over. The defense lawyers closed ranks again and we could barely see him slip out the door. He shuffled a bit and I wasn’t sure if he was shackled or not – one of the news stories said he wasn’t. The reporters would have had a much better look as they were behind him on the left side of the gallery.

How did it feel?

Reporters ask this all the time. The problem with the question is it misses so many things: the context, the history, the assumptions and the reality. I think it’s maybe easier describing two things I didn’t expect to feel.

The first is catching DeAngelo doesn’t bring closure. I have been saying this for the last two weeks – there needs to be a word for the opposite of closure. I guess beginning could work but it misses the nuance. This is like re-opening an old wound.

I was instantly validated when I asked the others in the courtroom this morning if they felt closure and they said no, it’s made all the memories come back. Those damn memories. Which lead to the nightmares and images of brutality that live in each of our minds in our own way.

It also adds a level of complexity to our lives I didn’t anticipate. I’ll give you one example: how does one stay involved in a trial like this and work?!  I’ve taken some time off but we are looking at months if not years for this case. I don’t know what the answer will turn out to be on this front.

The second feeling in had today, might be considered cognitive dissonance – but at an abstract level. I was looking at another human being, a man I might pass on the street or in the grocery store. He might have been with his daughter or granddaughter. I would think nothing of it. But this man has lived in my mind as a monster for 38 years. I don’t know what I thought he would look like, but I didn’t think he would look human. That maybe makes me the most sad. Because he was a dad and a grampa and literally nothing matters to him. He’s just left destruction in his path. Brutal, evil, dark, compulsive, destruction. And no matter what happens at this point, we can’t get any of the goodness that’s been lost.

There was a bit more to my day, but I have to stop and get some sleep – long drive from Sacramento back home. I am glad I went. I treasure that moment holding hands. The next hearing is on May 29th.

Here’s part two! Finally!