World Day Against the Death Penalty – WOMEN on Death Row – Part 5: Cathy Sarinana, California (USA)

WOMEN sentenced to death:
An invisible reality

On October 10, 2021, the 19th World Day Against the Death Penalty will be dedicated to women,

who are at risk of being sentenced to death ,

who have received a death sentence ,

who have been executed, and

those whose death sentence has been commuted or overturned for innocence.

Cathy Sarinana, 45, has lived on California’s death row since 2009. She and her former husband received the death sentence because they are blamed for the deaths of their two nephews (ages 11 and 13) in 2005. Cathy and Raul Sarinana already had two children of their own when they temporarily took in their nephews. There is talk of cruel mistreatment in the media reports, but it ultimately remains unclear whose account of the couple the results of the autopsy report.

While the alleged course of events is described in glowing colors in newspaper reports, there is hardly anything to read about Cathy’s own past – to what extent she herself had been a victim of abuse or whether she had been subjected to domestic violence by her husband. Or to what extent she was highly overwhelmed with suddenly four children instead of two, or whether she was using drugs.

None of this would be an excuse, but it would be an explanation to some extent. In any case, the Youth Welfare Office did not intervene despite several indications and thus failed. The fact that one does not read anything about what Cathy’s defense attorneys presented about her in court may allow one to draw conclusions about the quality of the defense – often enough, public defenders do a poor job due to poor pay and lack of experience.

Due to the thematic focus of this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty we had written to the 50 or so women on death row in the U.S. asking for contributions to give them a voice, and also offered letter writing contacts. Cathy sent the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty this drawing:

Art by Cathy Sarinana, California

“Happy Thanksgiving” – the Thanksgiving holiday celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November – is traditionally held in high regard by Americans as a family celebration. Possibly behind Cathy’s drawing is the longing for an intact and loving family, which she neither had nor could give.

“Happy Thanksgiving” – but this is perhaps not only the longing for family and for “normality”. It may also be the wish for her two biological children, that they may have a happy life and one day be able to forgive their parents.

Cathy Sarinana would not be the first to sincerely regret her actions. The victims’ older sister believes the death sentence for her aunt and uncle is appropriate – but it would only create new suffering if carried out. As hard as it is to let go of the understandable feelings of hatred and anger – in the end, it would be a worthwhile release from feelings that eat you up inside.

In our submission form, Cathy wrote in the column asking if there was anything else she would like to share, “Thank you for your kindness!” Perhaps Cathy is simply a polite person. Possibly, however, she has a special appreciation for kindness shown to her because she hasn’t experienced much kindness in her life…

Several women in U.S. death row are looking for pen pals through our website – such as in Arizona (Sammantha U.), California (Tanya N. and Cherie R.), Mississippi (Lisa C.), and North Carolina (Carlette P.). Visit our pen pal pages!

Gabi Uhl
German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty


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