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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Ind. Courts - "Seeking death penalty in Indiana is expensive, often unsuccessful"

Some quotes from Mark Wilson's very long story (that I can't even begin to summarize) in the Sunday Evansville Courier & Press:

EVANSVILLE — Seeking the death penalty in Indiana has become an expensive proposition, and one that often doesn't end with execution.

Only 16 percent of Indiana's death penalty cases — 30 out of 188 — filed from 1990 through 2009 ended in death sentences, according to the Indiana Public Defender Council.

Such statistics have given death penalty foes a solid economic argument, and even supporters of the death penalty are calling for reforms to control skyrocketing defense costs often born by local and state governments.

Vanderburgh County's record is as mixed as the state's. In the last two decades the county spent more than $800,000 defending death penalty cases, each more expensive than the last.

Only one of the county's last five death penalty trials resulted in an execution.

"If there is something broken it is the courts' allowance of a blank check for the defense," said Clark County Prosecutor, Steven Stewart, a recognized death penalty expert in the state.

Indiana criminal procedure allows defense attorneys to make expense requests to trial judges without input from prosecutors.

"The No. 1 defense strategy is to make it as expensive and burdensome as they can. That is just a fact of life. That is the way it is," Stewart said.

The risk for judges in not allowing defense requests, he said, is that the refusal might become grounds for a successful appeal. * * *

Although Indiana reimburses counties for half of the defense costs for death penalty cases, those costs can still be crushing.

Indiana began partially reimbursing counties for public defender costs in felony and death penalty cases in 1990. Since then, Vanderburgh County footed the bill to defend four of the five death penalty cases in that time and for the direct appeals of all five. The family of one defendant, Paul McManus, paid his trial cost.

However, only the trial of Matthew Eric Wrinkles, convicted of a 1994 triple homicide, ended in an execution. Vanderburgh's remaining death penalty cases — Daniel Wilkes, Paul McManus, Vincent Prowell and Timothy Anderson — have either resulted in prison sentences or are still under appeal. * * *

The state Supreme Court dictates the conduct of capital cases in Rule 24 of the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure.

The rule requires two public defenders to represent defendants.

"Capital cases are very time consuming and there is a lot at stake, obviously," said Stephen Owens, Vanderburgh County's chief public defender.

Those attorneys must be paid hourly or be a salaried capital public defender. The court periodically reviews the hourly rate, which is $109 for cases filed since Jan. 1, 2011. The hourly rate for the Weisheit trial attorneys is $106.

"Attorneys' fees eat up a lot of the money," Owens said.

The challenge of finding a qualified attorney

The rule sets out specific qualifications for both lead counsels and co-counsels. In addition to experience, it requires attorneys to complete 12 hours of training every two years.

The expense and time away from work, added to the strain and time commitment of defending capital cases, are powerful disincentives for attorneys to shy away from taking such cases.

Owens encountered that problem last year when it became necessary to find public defenders for Weisheit.

For some background, see this July 8, 2011 ILB entry headed "Jeffrey Weisheit likely to get new lead defense attorney on Friday", and this one from Nov. 29, 2010, headed "More on monetary costs of the death penalty in Indiana."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 7, 2011 12:32 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts