death penalty news—-TEXAS

Aug. 13


The following is a guest blog post from Kristin Houl, Executive Director
of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

In his interview with the DMN last week, Representative Robert Miklos
noted that the cost of seeking the death penalty may become so expensive
that many counties may forego it as a form of punishment. It appears that
most Texas counties already have elected to do without the death penalty –
136 of 254 Texas counties have not sent a single offender to death row in
the modern death penalty era (1976-present), and 46 counties have sent
only 1 person to death row.

But what makes the death penalty so expensive for the counties that choose
to seek it? Contrary to popular belief, it is not the years of appeals
that drive up the cost of the death penalty, although those necessary
legal processes certainly drain resources. Rather, it is the cost of the
original trial where the greatest discrepancies can be found. Capital
murder trials in which the prosecutor seeks a death sentence are vastly
more expensive than capital cases in which the death penalty has been
removed as a sentencing option. Here are some of the reasons why:

Jury selection in death penalty cases takes much longer than in other
trials – as much as a month, though sometimes even longer. In accordance
with the U.S. Supreme Court, all prospective jurors must be questioned
about their views on the death penalty to ensure they would not
automatically vote for or against death. During that time, two
prosecutors, 2 defense lawyers, one judge, and numerous court staff must
be paid. By contrast, in a non-death penalty murder trial, jury selection
can be completed in just a couple of days.

Death penalty trials also are longer for a number of reasons, but
particularly because of the sentencing phase. During that phase (which
does not take place in non-death penalty cases), capital defendants have
the opportunity to present lots of information – mitigating factors – that
often would not be presented in a non-death penalty trial. This mitigating
information may involve expert testimony, which can be quite expensive.

Consider this current case: Levi King faces the death penalty for
allegedly killing Gray County residents Brian Conrad, his pregnant wife
Michelle, and her teenage son Zack Doan in 2005. King has already pleaded
guilty to a double homicide in Missouri, where he was sentenced last year
to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His trial has been moved to Lubbock County, where jury selection has been
in process for the last 6 weeks.

According to Gray County Judge Richard Peet, as of June 19 the trial
already had cost more than $340,000, not including the last 6 weeks of
jury selection. It is likely that this trial will cost taxpayers close to
$1 million when all is said and done. Judge Peet rightly stressed that
this case is not about cost – it is about justice. But what about the
emotional cost to the family? Is it worth it to put the victims' family
through the trauma of a trial — and what certainly will be years of
appeals, if King is convicted and sentenced to death — when the defendant
already has been locked up for life, with no chance of ever being
released? How do we weigh these intangible human and emotional costs of
the death penalty, not to mention the very real cost to taxpayers? In this
context, does the death penalty really serve the needs of victims or the

(source: Dallas Morning News/blog)