Monday, November 2, 2009

Money and Murder

by Katherine Scardino

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.


FleaStiff said...

Cost Benefit analysis?
We hear alot about the cost of a trial but we rarely hear of the income: fees for parking TV trucks, reporter's hotel rooms, reporter's bar tabs, etc.

Just about any case will have some defects in it if we scrutinize it long enough.

Prevention? Many murders are triggered by alcohol consumption but the death penalty is a poor tool for teaching moderate drinking.

Deterence? I don't know if bad people are deterred by any penalty that is remote in time. Every time I go into a bank my failure to rob it is not in any way caused by the penalties involved. Heck, I don't even know what the penalties for bank robbery are. I'm not at all deterred by the death penalty in any of my actions.

Alot of our laws are rather absurd. That doesn't make them unenforceable. We don't have evidence based legislation about the death penalty. We don' have evidence based legislation about a great many things. Yet still we muddle on. Was a man executed due to poor fire analysis "expertise"? Almost certainly. Should we change the laws due to one such incident? Probably not.

dudleysharp said...

Ms. Scardino:

I advise you to fact check:

"Cost Savings: The Death Penalty"

Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let's be honest

The New Mexico repeal had nothing to do with cost.

On the Willingham case:

The police chiefs found it the least effective because capital murders are, thankfully, and by far, the lowest persentage of all violent crimes.

Maybe the poll should have asked them if they found the death penalty appropriate for the murderers of police.

Anonymous said...

DP advocates are SO touchy. I am sure you are going to get a lot of flak for this.

But I 100% agree. I think that there is a hell of a lot more than just that one guy who has been executed when he was actually innocent.

Looking at the case of Scott Peterson. Sure I think he did it, but am extremely uncomfortable putting someone to death based on circumstantial evidence.

Rosemary Harris said...

Like many people I've gotten more conservative as I've gotten older. Firmly against the death penalty when I was in my 20's, sometimes it does seem to me (now that I'm older) that there are some crimes so heinous only eliminating the perpetrator can make us all feel as if we're temporarily safer. "We're not like that. That horrible person was the exception." Of course that only lasts until the next heartbreaking or outrageous news story.

I read about the Willingham case in the New Yorker and it was chilling. There's also a wonderful (but necessarily grim) movie called The Life of David Gale which should be required viewing for anyone who thinks pulling the switch - as they used to call it - is a simple matter of good vs. evil.

katherine scardino said...

Death penalty advocates just cannot seem to be able to face the hard, cold facts. No one, I repeat, no one, believes that executing one person does one single thing to deter future crime. But, money might make a big difference in our executions. I would just like for the powers in our DP states to take a hard look at money spent vs. return.

dudleysharp said...


The only thing chilling about the New Yorker article was how bad it was. Please review:

Cameron Todd Willingham: Media meltdown & the death penalty:"Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?", by David Grann, New Yorker

dudleysharp said...

Ms. Scardino:

Lot's of people believe in death penalty deterrence, for good reason.

All prosepcts of a negative consequence deter some. It's a truism.

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

"Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"

"Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear"

16 recent deterrence studies, inclusive of their defenses

TigressPen said...

I have never really decided if I am pro death sentence or pro LWOP in a maximum security prison. I am sure innocent people have been killed via the DP- just as innocent people have likely die in the general population at prison.

I just try and take each case individually with my decison what I feel is right or wrong with DP verdicts.

Admittedly, I have applauded a jurys decision for death. What I don't applaud is the norm as to how many years before that sentence is carried out - over 12 years.

I say, can any cost be put on a life. Why not consider the victim's rights to have not been murdered when thinking of all the legal and monetary pros and cons of death penalty.

Why put the killer's right not to die over the victim's right not to have died.

Anonymous said...

Costs aside. I think the DP is easier than LWOP. They get a shot and go to sleep.

At least with LWOP if they find out they were wrong they can get out. Do you really think that just because we have executed some very bad men that its ok if we sometimes kill an innocent one?

Think about that.

Anonymous said...

Let's talk about all the injustice done to victim's of crime.

Talk about how horrible it is for the victim's family's to have to relive their loved ones murder very time parole comes around or request for clemency.

I'm for the death penalty. It's the best answer. I agree with the appeals process but we need the death penalty. It's the best answer for the problem.

Hope you'll talk about the victim's rights which never get enforced.

I'm so tired of hearing about all the innocents in prison. I'm so tired of criminals having their rights protected.

Too many victim's, no rights for them. Where's the justice in that?

Anonymous said...

LWOP parole would negate the coming up for parole. What part of WOP do you not understand?

The perp gets put away, locked in a cell 23 hours a day. Basically they rot in prison. They dont get to get put to sleep all nicey nicey.

dudleysharp said...

various anon:

Capital murderers tell us, by ratios of about 99.9 to 0.1 that they much prefer a life sentence to a death sentence.

There's nothing wrong with LWOP except living murderers harm and murder, again, excuted ones do not.

I say keep both LWOP and the death penalty and let a judge or jury decide whaich is most appropriate for the crime.

ugapam said...

The article doesn't address the cost to society of feeding/housing/providing medical/dental care, etc. for convicted killers for the rest of their natural lives. Surely that average figure, whatever it may be, is not insignificant; not $2 million, perhaps, but, depending upon the age of the convicted killer, I imagine the figure could rival the cost of raising a child to age 18. I believe the last figure I read for that cost was around $350,000. Facilities such as SuperMax clearly cost taxpayers multi-millions to build and maintain.
But besides the financial aspect-- and more importantly--is the fact that some cases are just so heinous, capital punishment is the only punishment that fits the crime from a moral standpoint. In those types of cases, where the evidence is overwhelming, and the killer's act was horrific by anyone's standards, capital punishment is appropriate. Cases that come to mind include: John Couey's murder of 8-year-old Jessica (can't recall her last name) outside Tampa, FL., the man videotaped snatching the young girl outside a car wash in Sarasota, FL., Michael King's random murder of young mother Amber Lee in Sarasota, FL, and Gary Michael Hilton's admitted murder of hiker Meredith Emerson in North Georgia.
I'm a liberal Democrat, but some murderer's actions are so inherently evil, they don't deserve to continue living. I would rather my tax money go toward eliminating these killers than imprisoning them for LWOP.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that you can remember John Couey's last name but not Jessica Lundsford's and you really think this system works.

dudleysharp said...


It is a sad reality that historically, as well as with current stories of crimes, that the name of the abuser is often remembered, but the names of their victims are, somehow, lost. We know Hitler, Mao, Stalin, John Wayne Gacy, Timothy McVeigh, etc., etc, but for many of us, remembering even a few of the names of their 100 million or so victims is difficult.

It is, however, enough, that we do remember that they were innocents murderered, that they had lives and loves that were not fulfilled, that many died under the most depraved of cirsumstances and that they, as all violent crime vicitms, should always be remembered and respected as the central beings in all criminal justice discussions.

Anonymous said...

Let me mention Joseph Edward Duncan III sadistic murderer of Brenda Groene, Slade Groene, Mark McKenzie, and the confessed murderer of Anthony Martinez, Sammiejo White, and Carmen Cubias. Also, he committed brutal tortures and sexual abuse on Shasta and Dylan Groene before he cruelly murdered little Dylan. For him, I support the death penalty. A lifetime in the MAX is not enough.

What I wish is for all the DP opponents to also consider how we mananage so many of these individuals that finally land on death row. Duncan is a prime example of a monster left to spiral out of control and his ruthless murders should have never happened.

Anonymous said...

So does he. He wants to die. For that reason alone I want him to rot in prison in supermax. If you know anything about his trials at all you would know that HE is going for the death penalty because he cannot stand the thought of prison, and he wants no appeals either.

Anonymous said...

Truthfully, I don't care what Duncan wants. His crimes are so heinous and vile, if his goal is to die for his crimes, so be it.
He is still going to have to sit in that tiny cell for a long, long time.

I am deeply disturbed that the system should have stopped Duncan, but it failed over and over and over until he forced everyone to notice his horrific crimes. While DP opponents lament the fate of these criminals, many of them are career criminals that finally commit a crime so brutal it puts them on death row.

Ignatius said...

Ms Scardino is a defense attorney so she has a vested interest in arguing against the death penalty. It drums up business.

In light of Nadal Hassan's slaughtering 13 of our troops and wounding 30, I will be eager for him to be charged with capital murder and duly executed upon conviction, in under five years.

But I'm certain Ms Scardino will argue that every expense should not be made in order to prosecute him because doing so will not prevent other capital murders.

Then why do we punish anyone for committing any crime? Robbery hasn't disappeared though we imprison people for it. Neither has rape, child molestation or fraud.

If we were to execute convicts swiftly and certainly, because We The People are entitled to swift justice too (oh yeah, the victim pool, the people the defense attorneys love to forget or further victimize), then oh yes, capital crimes WOULD be deterred.

But defense attorneys give capital criminals hope by filing appeal after appeal, driving up the cost of their case, shamelessly, wantonly, selfishly, with maximum greed. So, hey, why not, right?

That's called blaming the victim, We The People, for not stopping their own victimization, the gaming of the system by the CONVICTED CRIMINALS and their enablers the CRIMINAL LOVING DEFENSE ATTORNEYS.

Zach said...

Great post! The Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty lists a six big reasons why capital punishment should be eliminated (

-It’s costly–the death penalty is more expensive than life in prison
-It’s out of step with modern thinking–Kentuckians prefer prison over execution for murderers
-It’s risky–innocent people have been executed
-It’s unfair, broken, and arbitrary–the death penalty is not applied equally
-It’s unnecessary–the death penalty is not a deterrent
-Victims’ families deserve more care and compassion–the death penalty can extend and intensify their suffering

There's a lot of downside to executions and no upside.

Ignatius said...

Zach, so Nidal Hasan should not only live on our dime, but we should like it?

"It’s costly–the death penalty is more expensive than life in prison"

It's only expensive because anti-death penalty wusses frustrate the will of the people. The ACLU unionized court system indulges every motion, blunts every edge, whatever can be dreamed up to laugh at the victims. Not because it is inherently expensive.

"-It’s out of step with modern thinking–Kentuckians prefer prison over execution for murderers"

If Kentuckians really want to give room and board to human predators, that's up to them.

"-It’s risky–innocent people have been executed"

What about the risk of releasing the guilty who proceed to execute the innocent? Men such as Anthony Sowell. He executed 11. But to you, apparently, women, especially Black women are worthless, We can risk their lives, no biggie. Right? While the *known*, *proven*, *established*, *self-confessed* torturers and killers are worth Every.Single.Exhaustive.Effort?

"-It’s unfair, broken, and arbitrary–the death penalty is not applied equally"

We tried that already. Wusses later had it ended. Now a Federal death sentence is reserved for very rare circumstances.

Each state decides what rises to capital punishment status and clearly, each state sees it differently.

"-It’s unnecessary–the death penalty is not a deterrent"

Oh yes it is, just not with the sharp demarcated execution/drop in murders effect that would satisfy your childish fantasies. It might be less of a deterrent now only because of... of who? Speak up, I can't hear you.

That' right: because of the endless appeals. By those who are brain-washed into thinking they're *supposed* to get even the guilty off. And by those who are personally against it and will cheat to get their way.

"-Victims’ families deserve more care and compassion–the death penalty can extend and intensify their suffering"

Oh please. What worsens the suffering of the victim's family is the cruel and selfish delays created by the convicted monster and his defense attorney enablers.

But defense attorneys and anti-death penalty fools like the money too much to give it up.

"There's a lot of downside to executions and no upside."

If that were really true, then executions would have stopped being considered a long, long time ago. But humans inherently know how to keep a cancer from killing them: kill it first.

In the case of mass murderers, getting rid of those killing machines WILL spare massive suffering. WILL keep them from being used as political bargaining chips. WILL keep them from radicalizing their cell mates. WILL save us a *ton* of money in upkeep.

Oh wait. You think it doesn't sound opportunistic for you to argue all the money saving of your position but it just doesn't sound right when we point out how much money would be saved if we didn't have to pay for the room and board of fighting to keep alive a MONSTER in addition to their prosecution, their defense, and their appeals?

Wow. You must really think We The People are just saps for the soaking.

It WILL also keep the monsters from manipulating more fools like you into doubting the justice, jury, AND prison systems, doubting everyone *but* THEM.

LOTS OF upside, no downside.

Ignatius said...

Brian Beston and Hollie Beston haven't actually killed anyone. They just did so in every way but. By ruining a 4 year old girl. By raping her. On video. Livestreaming. On the internet.

But I'm sure you would like to see them get only a little slap on the wrist. Make them serve a jail sentence, which will not be anywhere near long enough, even if it were to be for "life." So we get to pay ever more in taxes to support their continued living. Where they get better medical care than taxpayers. They'll get all kinds of attention.

Oh yeah, that's right, monsters crave even negative attention, because it is better than nothing.

And we will continue to fixate on them until they get out. Then, we won't pay enough attention to them and they'll be free to victimize another child.

That's the price you demand for ruining the efficacy of capital punishment. You demand that the innocent suffer. Repeatedly. In maximum numbers. Society? Who cares about society! We're just the people you live as a member of, why should you care about us.

How about defense attorneys put the money they stea-- er, I mean "earn" on filing endless appeals to instead pay for the continuing care and treatment of that child?

I didn't think so.

If you try to claim that execution is cruel and unusual punishment I say turn around, face the defenseless child and tell her that what they did to her was not cruel and unusual. Go ahead.

Execution is too good for them. I'd prefer we force them to shoot themselves. At least the couple in AZ some years ago did that, out in the desert, like they all should.

I'm sure you cried.

Ignatius said...

I'm delighted to add: Mohammed is dead.

Anonymous said...

As the U.S. Army waits to formally charge Major Nidal Hasan with murder, another Muslim, former U.S. Army member was executed last night for the nation's first act of domestic terrorism in the wake of the attacks of September 11th. Yesterday Virginia governor Tim Kaine refused to stay the execution of John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. Sniper who with 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo went on a shooting spree in the Fall of 2002 that left 10 people dead.

Do I believe in the death penalty? Possibly. Do I think Mahammad should be put to death? Absolutely. Because he is the most heinous of criminals, and that is the maximum penalty that the law allows in the state of Virginia.

It is surprising to me that anyone would have an objection to Mahammad's execution. In the 7 years since the shootings he has shown absolutely no remorse for his actions,as w said to be defiant in the face of death, and thus there has never been any potential for rehabilitating the man. What is the point of exhausting resources prolonging his life?

This is the very root of the argument set before the Supreme Court this week as they review Roper v. Simmons, the 2005 case that banned capital punishment for juveniles. Deciding that sentencing minors to death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment only set up the dilemma; so what is so humane about exiling people to a prison cell and throwing away the key?

In Canada the death penalty has been abolished in Canada since 1976 (ironically at the same time capital punishment was resumed in the U.S. ) and replaced with a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole of 25 years for all first-degree murders. Canadians have been paying for it ever since. Baring special circumstances for egregious offenders, a person in Canada can be released from prison for murder after 15 years of a sentence served - and that doesn't even mean the offender need be fully rehabilitated, they simply need to demonstrate a acceptable level of good behavior.

Even if complete rehabilitation were possible - if you could dedicate complete attention to changing behavior - I question the worth of attempting this for persons like Robert Pickton, Clifford Olson, William Fyfe.

If a country operates without the death penalty then it better dedicate the attention and resources to giving a good faith effort to rehabilitation and restorative justice, not just pay lip service to the idea. In 33 years Canada has done little to suggest it is capable of offender rehabilitation in even the mildest of cases. And when you factor in the costs of a true effort toward rehabilitation of criminals ( not the crappy efforts put forth by justice rehab in the cases of Anthony Sowell and Phillip Garrido) no cost benefit analysis could ever argue that putting a man to death is more expensive than keeping them alive.

Before Americans go any further with death penalty moratoriums, they should look long and hard at the bad example of Canada; and they better have a solid plan as to what they will do with the worst offenders as they linger in our prisons for the rest of their lives.

John Allore

Ignatius said...

Mr Allore, I am so very sorry for your continuing trials.

May some day you receive the justice you merit delivered to you and relief is yours at last.

God bless you and, bon chance.

Ignatius said...

Here is a link that leads to an LA Times article this week November 17, 2009 about SCOTUS over-turning, yet again, the laughably and predictably over-turn deserving 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, headquartered in San Francisco:,0,6693923.story

Judge Roy Reinhardt is only one, just one, of the "double agents", if you will, burrowed deep in the courts who serves a chosen God ahead of his duty as a jurist. His loyalties are divided. Justice for the victims is not his favorite.

He, and the too many like him quietly working below our radar, are who cripple the efficacy of the death penalty, not the people who seek that legally provided sentence.

Who is his God? Its four-letter abbreviation starts with an "A".

Our entire judiciary is infested with adherents who work insidiously to undermine the law. Those who have been taught to see the world through the eyes of the zealous belief system of which Judge Reinhardt is a believer do not have to be accused of conspiracy.

They work as a hive.

Group think is so integral to them that they find it impossible to detect it among themselves. Likelier, they know if they merely deny it, that will be enough to make us stop questioning so they can return to thwarting the law comfortably.

The hive denies justice to those who were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of their convicted killers and torturers.

The hive fails to perceive its corrosive effects on the house that is their home.

I used to be a card carrying believer. They are who taught me how devastatingly bad they are for victims and how much they honor criminals.

Ignatius said...

Sorry, I meant Judge Stephen Reinhardt, not Roy.

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