On June 9, 2010, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense approved a modest expansion of the West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases, which was created in 2007 and is based in Lubbock. The office currently includes 85 counties in West Texas and is charged with providing quality representation to indigent defendants facing the death penalty. It consists of attorneys and investigators with specialized training in capital cases. Officials estimate that the program has saved those 70 of the 85 now participating counties $637,000 in the first two years. Of the 24 cases the West Texas office has handled since its inception just one defendant has been sentenced to death.
The panel approved a one-year, $2.2 million grant that will expand the program by 55 counties in far West Texas and south Texas. The 140 counties now eligible under the plan are not liable for the cost to defend those facing the death penalty. Under the proposal, state funding to the office will gradually decrease over six years, and counties’ contributions will increase commensurately. Each county will contribute using a formula based on population and a 10-year average of capital cases, ranging from range from $1,000 to $350,000 per county. Conservation estimates place the cost of trying one death penalty case at $250,000.
Officials eventually want to make the program available to all 240 Texas counties with populations of less than 300,000.