The Anguish of Uncertainty

When the Malaysian airliner vanished from the skies last month, the world’s heart ached for the families – not only for their terrible losses, but because the early investigation was badly mishandled and the authorities kept them in the dark for far too long.

We can relate.  The family and friends of Susan Keegan, a victim of homicide, understand all too well that uncertainty, and the agony of delay, can be almost as harsh as loss itself.  And we are not alone – in California, more than 1,000 homicides go unsolved every year, according to Safe California (www.safecalifornia.org).  One thousand families – in one state, in one year — who carry the memories of the betrayed in their heart, and who never have their day in court.  One thousand communities that never learn what happened in their own backyards.

When it comes to homicide, Mendocino County actually beats the averages in California. Statewide, half the homicide cases (from 2000 to 2009) have never been solved, but only 25% of those in Mendocino remain open. District Attorney David Eyster has the resources to meet, or surpass, that track record.

Let’s hope the Keegan case doesn’t worsen the county’s performance.

Already, the Keegan home has twice been searched, under separate warrants.  DNA samples have been collected, and forensics and legal experts from outside Mendocino County have been paid as consultants to help develop the case.  Most of the county’s law enforcement team, in both the DA’s office and the Sheriff’s office, have met repeatedly to review the evidence.  Apparently, they agree on the facts of the case, because they formally designated Susan’s death a homicide in August 2012. That’s how her death certificate reads.

So what has happened since then?  Despite the DA’s silence, we have every reason to believe he is a guiding force behind a continuing investigation.  His office tells us the case remains active.  We know the Sheriff’s staff has been castigated for its mishandling of the evidence that tragic morning after Susan’s death. We know Susan’s husband has engaged a leading criminal defense attorney, who has apparently advised his client not to cooperate with the authorities.  We know there is only one suspect.

But we don’t know why the DA’s office has taken 3-1/2 years to make an arrest – an arrest that everyone still expects to come.  We don’t know why friends and family, whose anguish is undiminished, are still asked to wait.

Not every case gets handed to prosecutors clean, easy, and nicely wrapped with a bow.  The Ukiah community nonetheless needs its law enforcers to get justice done.  A civilized society insists on it.

It is time, DA Eyster.  It is long past time.

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