A System We Believe In

And still we wait.  As Susan Keegan’s 59th birthday approaches, the sole suspect in her homicide remains free. Anxious, one assumes.  Fully aware that much of the Ukiah community expects his arrest.  Very cautious about his behavior in public. But free nonetheless.

Susan “died at the hands of another” more than three years ago, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff (“Ukiah Woman’s 2010 Death Classified as a Homicide,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 21, 2012).   “There is a person of interest,” added a police sergeant (“Ukiah Resident Susan Keegan’s Death Reclassified as a Homicide,” Ukiah Daily Journal, August 21, 2012).

So why no action?  In “Assignment:  Ukiah” (Ukiah Daily Journal, July 5, 2014), author Tom Hine called the case “a long and festering problem for DA Eyster.” Hine pointed out that the case appeared “to be simple and straightforward:  Two people in a house and one of them is dead.” But he also hinted that a conviction would not be easy.

We know that.  The contours of the mishandled investigation in the days after Susan’s death have been well documented in the Justice4Susan Committee blog (“Three Years On:  Applause, Frustration and Hope,” November 11, 2013) and elsewhere. But despite early errors, there is enough forensic and circumstantial evidence (“The Improbable Death of Susan Keegan,” Anderson Valley Advertiser February 25, 2011) to convince virtually every law enforcement official in the county of what actually happened.

Including District Attorney David Eyster, who apparently would like to prosecute.  He has certainly invested enormous resources in building a case. But instead of moving forward, writes Hine, he “sighs, drums his fingers on his desk and stares at the Keegan file in front of him.”

No doubt, he worries about the ethics of prosecuting a case he is not certain he can win. No doubt, too, he has political and professional reasons to hesitate.  But the American Bar Association (ABA) reminds us that “the duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict” (Standard 3-1.2) and that “a prosecutor should not fail to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in prosecuting an accused” (Standard 3- 2.9).  A jury of the suspect’s peers gets to decide whether to convict.

The ABA says something else, too.  “The prosecutor should readily provide victims and witnesses who request it information about the status of cases in which they are interested”  (Standard 3-3.2).

Here, DA Eyster has been disappointing.  In a signed letter sent to him in May 2014, members of the Justice4Susan Committee formally requested a meeting so that we could be updated on the case.  Eyster ignored the letter completely, but a member of his staff made it clear that our persistence – actually, he called it “interference” – was irritating.  While important, this is not the only case requiring our time, attention, and resources,” he wrote, as if a 3-1/2 year delay could be explained by Eyster’s busy schedule.

The spokesman also repeated the words we have heard time and time again from the DA’s office:  The case, he wrote, “is still ongoing.”

That assertion begins to defy credibility, although we remain hopeful. Meanwhile, we have no choice but to be something of a thorn in the side of the DA.  We can not let the system fail Susan Keegan, or the people of Mendocino County.  If David Eyster would open his door to us, or explain why the quest for justice is best advanced by our silence, we would certainly listen with an open mind.  Until then, we’ll keep making noise.