Guest opinion: Death penalty only solace for bereaved family | January 26, 2011 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - January 26, 2011

Guest opinion: Death penalty only solace for bereaved family

by Frank Merrill

I read with dismay Henry Organ's opinion piece last week in opposition to the death penalty.

I called Mr. Organ to confirm what I had already suspected — that he had no personal knowledge of or connection with the death penalty. My wife and I, and the rest of our family, can tell a very different story. Our son, Officer Rich May of the East Palo Alto Police Department, was executed by gang member Alberto Alvarez on Jan. 7, 2006, on Weeks Street in East Palo Alto.

In our case, there is absolutely no question of innocence — by his own testimony, the murderer admitted shooting Rich and in fact, after only wounding him with a body shot, of returning to put a bullet directly between Rich's eyes to finish the job.

He had a "who's who" legal defense team, provided by San Mateo County and the state of California, which included two attorneys (Charles Robinson and Eric Lieberman), crime scene reconstruction experts, use of force experts and private investigators. The jury reviewed the "cock and bull story" that the defense presented (a convicted felon, who had a gun illegally, was trying to "defend" himself in a fight) and determined there was not a shred of truth to it. The verdict was unanimous in the guilt phase and the judge saw the heinous crime as sufficient for the death penalty, which was the choice of Steve Wagstaffe, then the deputy district attorney and now DA.

This individual is incapable of rehabilitation and has a long history of violence against society. Instead, he will live (until his execution) in an 8 foot by 12 foot cell, virtually never seeing anything but artificial light.

In addition, he will have repeated appeal reviews, which will begin generally within 10 years of the sentence. These costly reviews will examine every shred of trial testimony to try and discredit the prosecution's presentation and find something that will allow the death penalty opponents an opportunity to save a murderer's life. In addition, for the remainder of his life, the murderer receives medical care, visits from family, correspondence from friends and, of course, "three squares and a cot."

We, the family, are left to pick up the rubble of our lives and go on — eventually, as though nothing has happened. We will have to live with not just the pain of losing Rich but also with the realization that the murderer continues to live and breathe. We have to be allowed to see the punishment fit the crime and in this case, the murderer needs to pay for his actions.

Bringing peace of mind to the victims is the only true consolation that the legal system can provide. In this case, we can only hope it occurs as soon as possible.

To quote famous columnist Mike Royko: "Murder is the most terrible crime there is. Anything less than the death penalty is an insult to the victim and to society." To an individual like Henry Organ, who has never seen the pain and suffering that such a murder creates, I can only say: walk a mile in our shoes before you decide the death penalty is wrong.

Frank Merrill is the stepfather of Officer Rich May and lives on Moulton Drive in Atherton.


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