Just a few days short of a year ago, Lassen County residents recoiled in horror as the details of the New Year’s Day murder of Robert McElrath, a well-respected Susanville Police officer, who allegedly was killed by his wife, Joanna McElrath, and her boyfriend, Robert Glen James, spread like wildfire through the community.
McElrath, 37, began his career in Lassen County at the Lassen County Jail as a sheriff’s deputy. He also worked as security officer at Sierra Army Depot in Herlong and became a full-time officer with the SPD in 2006.
During his tenure, McElrath also earned the respect of the public he encountered in his role as a law enforcement officer — as a traffic cop, an officer working at public events or just offering counsel to citizens needing to work out a problem with the law.
Everybody who knew McElrath said he was a kind and compassionate human being who served his community with professionalism and dignity.
Joanna McElrath and James face first degree murder charges in the Lassen County Superior Court, and last week Robert Burns, Lassen County’s District Attorney, announced his office will not seek the death penalty against the two defendants.
Although the authority for the decision rests solely with Burns, he consulted with the McElrath family, the Lassen County Sheriff, and the chief and officers of the Susanville Police Department. All unanimously agreed Burns should not pursue the death penalty in this case.
One of the strongest arguments in not pursuing the death penalty in this case is the difficulty in obtaining such a sentence in the state of California. Believe it or not, according to a press release from the district attorney’s office, there are only 16 women on death row in California, and the last woman executed in California had the sentence carried out in 1961 — 50 years ago.
Even if the district attorney’s office obtained a death sentence in the case, appeals could go on for many years, resulting in a de-facto life sentence.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for Burns’ decision comes from the McElrath family. The family wants closure in the case — not only for themselves but for the four children who survive the slain officer.
It’s easy for some to argue the district attorney should seek the death penalty in this case — an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But as a practical matter, the slim possibility of obtaining a death penalty conviction against Joanna McElrath — a wife who allegedly plotted with her boyfriend to end her husband’s life, affirms Burns made the right decision.
It’s ironic to hear that some who know Joanna McElrath well say a life sentence with no possibility of parole could in fact be a more tortuous penalty than execution for her because she would be deprived of basic comforts of freedom she values so highly. She’d be confined behind bars for the rest of her natural life. Although Burns will not pursue the death penalty in this case, he still seeks sentences of life imprisonment without parole for both defendants.
With those sentences, justice will be served.
|< Prev||Next >|