Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Part III, Death Penalty Capital, USA

This is the last of three blog posts focusing on Brazos County, Texas and the death penalty.

Part I discussed the per capita rates of execution for counties in Texas, concluding my home, Brazos county, Texas has the second highest rate of execution per 100,000 residents in Texas. For reasons contained in the post, I concluded Brazos county is the Death Penalty Capital, USA. In Part II, I dug deeper into the numbers, discussing the commonality of the three highest per capita execution counties in Texas and what factors had to be present for a county to become Death Penalty Capital, USA.

A willingness to shoulder the burden of cost is one of those factors. Death penalty prosecutions have become almost cost prohibitive for cash strapped counties. In this way death penalty abolitionists have been accused of taking a page from abortion abolitionist's playbook: If you cannot abolish the the offending policy outright, then make it as difficult as possible to utilize.

This begins with the cost of death penalty prosecution. They are expensive and the costs are continuing to escalate for reason not necessarily germane to this post.

And I do have news from Death Penalty Capital, USA on the budgetary cash drain in making the death penalty decision.

 In August, 2015 yet another capital murder, death penalty case is scheduled to begin here in Brazos County. The defendant in the case is Gabriel Hall. Hall is of Filipino decent, was adopted at 11 years of ageand was 18 years of age when arrested for capital murder. Travel to and investigation in the Phillippines has driven much of the cost in the case, now in it's fourth year. Brazos county has paid out over $822,000 to date on the case - before jury selection is slated to begin. Although difficult to generalize, that figure will likely double by the end of the trial. If so, Brazos county will spend nearly $2 million in prosecuting the case to verdict.

Gabriel Hall's adopted parents are Wes and Karen (Kruse) Hall. Wes Hall is a local attorney and former local Justice of the Peace. Karen Kruse Hall is president of Central Texas Orphan Mission Alliance whose statement of mission can be found here. Karen Kruse Hall is the daughter of Ed Kruse, the family which owns Blue Bell Creameries.

Brazos County is footing the bill for Gabriel Hall's defense.

In February, 2013, Stanley Robertson, who Brazos county prosecutors sought the death penalty for, was instead sentenced to life without possibility of parole (LWOP). According to The Bryan College Station Eagle, around $500,000 was spent for defense and non-budgeted prosecution costs.

For those of you keeping a tally of the cash bleed to my county, that is a combined $1.32 million spent on two cases, one which resulted in LWOP and another which has not yet begun jury selection.

But there is more.

Christian Olsen is one of four Brazos county offenders on death row. His case was reversed on initial direct appeal. Following the reversal, Brazos county prosecutors decided to again seek the death penalty for Olsen. Olsen is set to be re-tried in October, 2015. I do not have current costs to Brazos County on the initial trial, appeal and now retrial, but like Robertson, it will easily run into the six figure range, regardless of outcome.

Then, on Friday, July 17, 2015 another Brazos County death row inmate - John Thuesen - received word state district judge Travis Bryan, III recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) that Thuesen receive a new punishment trial. Judge Bryan issued a 112 page Order in Thuesen's initial state post conviction writ application. The Order made findings of ineffective assistance of trial counsel in the failure to develop expert testimony and evidence of PTSD related to Thuesen's military service. A decision by the CCA is likely more than a year away.

The oldest Brazos County death penalty inmate is Marcus Druery, who has been on the row since December, 2003. Currently, his case is back in Brazos County district court on the issue of his competency to be executed.

Finally, Stanley Griffin, represented in initial state post conviction stage by David Dow and the Texas Innocence Network based at the University of Houston Law Center, is still in early stages of the post conviction process. Cost to Brazos county for the Griffin prosecution were similar to that of Roberstson (Disclosure: I was part of the team that defended Stanley Griffin in his capital murder trial).

The larger issue is any county's willingness to bear the cost of a death penalty prosecution. Many would argue cost is not the relevant issue, or if relevant, not a significant factor in the death penalty decision. However, budgeting authorities responsible for allocating scarce resources in a county considering a death penalty prosecution may see it differently after Death Penalty Capital, USA's cautionary tale.

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