Did you know it costs more than $2 million, give or take a few hundred thousand, to prosecute a capital-murder defendant from the moment of arrest until the jury returns a verdict? That's without the continuing costs of a decade or so of appeals of every death sentence.
Killing a citizen for killing another citizen to prevent the killer from killing again is costly -- and frankly, embarrassing. Many studies find there is absolutely no evidence that executing the “worst of the worst” deters anyone from committing any kind of crime, especially murder. In 1995, a poll by Hart Research Associates found that the majority of police chiefs did not believe the death penalty significantly reduces the number of homicides. In fact, these police chiefs ranked it as the least effective way to reduce crime. The only thing Texas has gotten from all its many executions is a bad reputation and the distinction of killing more people than any other state in the United States, as well as some entire countries.
After 33 years of executions (since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed restoration of the death penalty in 1976), some states are looking at the bottom line: What are we getting in return for executing violent criminals? New Mexico recently backed away from capital punishment. The cost is too great for the return; worse, several prisoners have been exonerated, which can scare even the most steadfast death-penalty supporter. No one can stomach the execution of an innocent person.
Texas is currently in turmoil over the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The evidence used to declare the fire arson in 1991 has been found flawed and unreliable by Texas' arson commission in 2009.
It appears that Texas did, in fact, execute a man for a crime he did not commit. Oops! My bad! What else can we say? Well, according to Gov. Rick Perry, right after he replaced three members of the arson commission, Cameron Todd Willingham (photo below) was a “bad man” who deserved to die, right? No, Gov. Perry, you are wrong. Whether Mr. Willingham was a “bad man” wasn't the point. The point is that Texas spent the money to have a jury trial, and presented bad, incompetent, allegedly “expert” evidence about arson -- and that this evidence led a jury to find Willingham guilty of capital murder and sentence him to death.
There are so many flaws in the U.S. capital-punishment system that it's hard to pick just one. It would be nice if capital punishment were eliminated in the United States so we could join the company of the rest of the world's civilized nations. But more likely, it will be because of money, money, money.
Let’s look briefly at the money issue. In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years -- and that's from a Dallas Morning News report back in 1992! Obviously, as of 2009, the cost is even higher. In California, the death-penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million each year, above and beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. (L.A. Times, March 6, 2005).
The cost of a capital crime -- a crime for which a person may be sentenced to death -- can be too much for some jurisdictions, such as Austin County, Texas. In August in a small, bucolic community halfway between Austin and Houston, four men, all relatives, were arrested, jailed and charged with capital murder in the death of a Houston doctor visiting his summer home there. Austin County hasn't had a capital-murder prosecution in 15 years. The cost of prosecuting these four men for capital murder will be prohibitive. Each of the four defendants is entitled to two defense lawyers, defense experts, and a multitude of other defense expenses.
So: What if smaller counties “Just Say No”? Their resources could be channeled into better schools, more police officers, solving old crimes, building new libraries, etc.
That would leave only the larger jurisdictions prosecuting capital cases. And how could that be acceptable? That would mean if someone committed a capital murder in Harris County, for example, they could be sentenced to death. If the same person committed the same crime in a small county, he wouldn't be charged with capital murder -- so punishment would be determined by where a crime was committed.
That is exactly what is happening in various counties across Texas, making the death penalty even more flawed and inequitable.
The cost of prosecuting a capital case is enormous. The return is small -- so small that all you get back is one executed person unable to commit any more crimes -- and a lot of invoices. Let’s ALL just say no.