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For $20, More Lives Are Pulled Into a Cycle of Violence : <i> “All those men on that transport ship died, George. You weren’t there to save Harry, so he wasn’t there to save them."</i> --From the movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Maybe if we had saved Kenneth Redman we could have saved Titus Imaku and he would still be here to save his son.

Imaku, a Nigerian-born engineering student at Cal State Long Beach, was working his night job as a cabdriver in May, 1991, when he drove three people to a grocery store at Crenshaw and Slauson. One was Kenneth Eugene Redman, 20, an unskilled, unemployed high school dropout who had recently fathered a child.

Inside the store, Redman told one passenger, an acquaintance, that he planned to rob Imaku. The idea was so absurd that the other passenger thought he was joking. But back in the cab, Redman directed Imaku down an alley behind Gramercy Street. A danger sign should have flashed in Imaku’s head, but it didn’t.

Maybe Imaku, 35, was thinking about the stillborn daughter his wife delivered just two months earlier. Maybe he was thinking about the sick mother in Nigeria to whom he regularly sent money. Maybe he was thinking about his children, a girl, 5, and a boy, 11.

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Without warning, Redman fired two bullets into the back of Imaku’s head. He rifled through Imaku’s billfold. He found $20. Back at the house, the other passenger asked Redman in terror how he could kill a man for $20.

“It was $20 that I didn’t have,” was Redman’s chilling response.

Before that night, Redman had never had any contact with police. He was not a gang member. But anybody who scratched just slightly beneath the surface would have known that he was a time bomb waiting to go off.

“It was almost like this was destined,” said Mark Borden, Redman’s attorney.

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Redman the killer was once Redman the man-child, which, those close to the case say, may explain how he became Redman the killer. His mother, a drug addict/prostitute, had raised him in a world of abuse, poverty, uncertainty and neglect.

By age 15, he had moved 20 times, mostly to the homes of drug users and drug dealers. His mother often abandoned him, leaving him to tend a younger brother. Neighbors and friends said she verbally and physically abused them.

No agencies intervened. Thin budgets make that sort of thing unlikely these days. But there is money available now, $35,000 a year to keep Redman locked up in state prison for the rest of his life.

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But what of Imaku’s family? When Redman murdered their breadwinner, he re-created the Imaku family largely in the image of his own--fatherless, poor, balancing on the edge of disaster.

Deborah Imaku, 37, now subsists on federal assistance. Consequently, she has moved from the security of their Long Beach apartment to a hazardous public housing project in Compton. Most troubling, however, is the impact of her husband’s murder on her son, now 13.

“There’s a lot of anger, but he won’t talk about it,” the mother says. His grades have fallen from Bs to Ds. He ditches classes, refuses to do schoolwork and generally does “things he never did when his father was alive.”

“The way things are going,” says his mother, “he’s going to end up dead or in jail.”

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In response to such cases, for the past 17 years California’s policy-makers and the populace have clung fervently to a formula of longer sentences and more prisons, an empty, emotion-filled policy that accomplishes little and leaves in its wake a continually climbing body count.

In 1977, the California prison system housed 19,000 prisoners; it now houses 109,000. California now locks up a higher percentage of its citizens than any state in the nation, almost twice that of South Africa and nearly three times that of the former Soviet Union. And nobody feels safer, because nobody is safer.

“We’re so bent on incarceration we’re not dealing with the issues,” says Bobby Grace, the prosecuting attorney who last week tried for the death penalty on Redman. “Unless you change the economics that drive people to do things, there’s always going to be an 18-year-old out there who does things because he thinks this is what he has to do to make it.”

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There are hundreds of Kenneth Redmans right now roaming the streets. They have no regard for life, because life has had little regard for them.

Eventually, many of them will end up behind bars--forever. For victims like the Imakus and those who are to follow, however, it won’t really matter. For them, we will have dealt with the issue way too late.


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