Forgive Del Norte County residents if we feel the scales of justice are tipping dangerously in favor of the accused.
It was only four weeks ago that a Smith River man with a history of domestic violence was in essence given a 68-day sentence for involuntary manslaughter in the death of his mother, courtesy of the state Attorney General's Office and a local judge.
Then came last week's carnage in Crescent City, which didn't have to happen.
Even before Jerry Wayne Steele was arrested for the repeated sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl, he had held a box-cutter to her throat in an attempt to threaten her into silence, according to Santa Clara County court documents. She courageously told the truth anyway.
Steele went to jail on suspicion of numerous charges, including lewd
or lascivious acts on a child by force, violence, duress, menace and
fear, as well as attempting to dissuade a witness by using or
threatening to use force.
Cecilia Mortensen moved 400 miles north to Crescent City with her
mother, Ashley Volore, who clearly believed there was still reason to be
How right she was.
The box-cutter threat was documented in court records along with the
sordid details of four years of alleged abuse by this so-called friend
of the family. And yet Steele's bail was set at $250,000, and he
actually had to post only a fraction of that amount to gain his freedom.
The freedom to equip himself with what authorities later called a
"kidnap kit," including a night-vision device, a stun gun, duct tape,
rope and large zip ties.
And a teddy bear.
Exactly what further atrocities he intended will never be known. When
he showed up at the Shangri La Trailer Court, the only tool he
ultimately employed was a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol, with which
he shot both mother and daughter in the head. Cecilia lingered on life
support for days as her family made the decision to have her organs
harvested for transplants. Volore miraculously recovered in time to be
near her daughter when she died.
Steele eluded authorities for several hours, an armed killer loose in
a small, traumatized town. When he was discovered, he ironically
delivered the only justice to be found in this ordeal: He turned the gun
Throughout California, Victim Witness programs provide services to
those on the receiving end of criminals' misdeeds. Just what services
Volore and Cecilia availed themselves of is unclear; it could have
included notification of court proceedings, counseling and financial
compensation, and even assistance with home security or relocation.
But in a case such as this - and the aforementioned death of a local
mother at the hands of her son - those services no longer matter.
When it comes to Cecilia Mortensen, Santa Clara County failed
miserably in supplying the most crucial victim assistance. It had a man
behind bars charged with monstrous deeds, including the basest form of
And it let him bail out, enabling his ill-fated road trip from Los
Gatos to Crescent City. A report in today's Triplicate indicates the
bail could have been set much higher.
When the potential threat to a victim is clear-cut, there should
either no bail possible, or it should be set at the highest possible
level - prohibitively high, hopefully.