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April 20, 2010

Is seeking a fourth death sentence a sound use of limited state resources?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this effective local story out of California, which is headlined "Mounting costs to try killer Duncan for slaying of Beaumont boy fuel debate since death sentence awaits Duncan elsewhere."  Here are parts of the fascinating on-going story:

The death penalty trial of Joseph Edward Duncan III already has cost Riverside County more than $167,000, and legal experts say the murder trial could total several million dollars by the time it's completed.

Since January 2009, the Riverside County district attorney's office has been prosecuting Duncan, who has already been sentenced to death for murders in Idaho, in the 1997 killing, torture and sexual assault of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez of Beaumont.

The district attorney extradited Duncan, 47, to face murder charges in Indio for Anthony's death after Duncan was convicted of murdering a family of four in Idaho. He was sentenced by an Idaho federal and state court to three death sentences and nine life terms.

Riverside County so far has been billed at least $167,665, according to documents detailing expenses for the defense, jail housing and transportation of Duncan. Those numbers do not include prosecution or defense attorney hours or district attorney investigation costs.

Martinez's mother, Diana Gonzales, who lives in Kansas, said she supports the district attorney prosecuting the case.  Gonzales said her family and the community of Beaumont have waited more than 13 years for her son's killer to be sent to trial and find justice for Anthony....

Duncan has confessed to killing Anthony and is representing himself.  Since he has refused an attorney, he is prohibited by state law from pleading guilty.  He is spending his days at the Indio Jail and has a tentative Sept. 1 trial date, but Duncan has said he may need another one to three years to prepare his defense.

Duncan was transferred from federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., to California in an agreement with federal prosecutors that he would be returned immediately if an order for execution is issued. He will return to federal custody if convicted in Riverside County.

Riverside County Public Defender Gary Windom has questioned why Duncan is being prosecuted here, when he already has been convicted and sentenced in another case and the county is in a fiscal crisis.  The public defender's office represented Duncan until he was allowed to act as his own attorney in September.

"No matter how you slice it, it's an expensive commodity," Assistant Public Defender Robert Willey said. "There's absolutely no reason to try this case here.  We're dedicating courtroom time and a trial whenever it may go.  And at any given point in time, the federal authorities could call and say, 'We're ready to execute him.' "

District Attorney Rod Pacheco has stood by the decision to prosecute Duncan to achieve justice for Anthony Martinez.  "The reason we feel this is important is a 10-year-old boy was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in our county and it's important to us that that child gets justice," district attorney's spokesman Michael Jeandron said.  "We're not going to tell a 10-year-old child and his family that their case is not important enough to prosecute."

The average death penalty trial can cost $3 million to $7 million, said Michael Radelet, a University of Colorado sociology professor and death penalty expert. "What goal is accomplished for spending several million on this case when we know the prosecutor will look tough on crime?" Radelet said. "It's not about whether this case is worth it. It's about whether it's worth it compared to other ways to spend the money and keep schools open."...

Jeandron said the case has not had any significant impact on the county's budget.  In response to the case being politically motivated, he said the case is being pursued to ensure justice for Anthony. "Whether or not Anthony Martinez deserves justice is not an issue of whether it's financially acceptable. We're not in a position to say if it's too expensive to consider that," Jeandron said. "What we're doing will double lock the door so a serial killer and rapist is sentenced to death, whether it be in Idaho or California.  We're making sure his fate is sealed."...

Anthony's mother said her family and the community of Beaumont have paid taxes for purposes like Duncan's trial.  "The time is now to ask the government to use our money to put Joseph Duncan on trial for Tony's kidnapping and murder," Gonzales wrote.  "How much is a person's life worth?  How do we as a society say that it is too expensive to give justice to a 10-year-old boy that was kidnapped at knifepoint and dumped like garbage?  Do we dare put a price tag on justice?  My son's life was worth every cent that is being spent on prosecuting the monster that took his life!!!" she wrote.

April 20, 2010 at 09:40 AM | Permalink


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sounds like typical govt stupidity to me.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 20, 2010 1:20:06 PM

rod, your comment is typical obnoxious more enlightened than thou commentary we've come to know and love. This is not "stupidity". It may not be the highest and best use of resources, but that's not stupidity--it's idealism, and I thought that idealism was something you people admired. I guess not.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 20, 2010 2:16:24 PM

idealism. right. do you know anything about this publicity-hound, self-promoting local DA? of course not.

we can debate whether carrying on with this trial is a good or bad action, but spare me the protestations of purity on the part of the DA. those of us familiar with riverside know better.

Posted by: goingback2cali | Apr 20, 2010 4:00:58 PM

point taken, goingback

Posted by: federalist | Apr 20, 2010 6:06:08 PM

When advised that a treaty stopping French attacks upon American shipping could be rapidly facilitated by a small bribe, our response as a young, relatively poor nation was "Millions for defense, but not a penny for tribute!" While I know nothing about the DA in this case, I'd hope that some of that same type of feeling animated his decision to prosecute.

Now, longtime readers of this blog's comments know that I feel much of the present hysteria over sex offenders is little more than a useful diversion of attention away from the fact that politicians are unable and unwilling to tackle far more important problems in our society. Nevertheless, if we are to be the kind of society we want to be and say we are we must be willing to stand up for certain things even (especially) when doing so is a hard and difficult (and possibly expensive) task. First among these is a profound respect for the life of every person.

I don't think of this case as one seeing how many times we can kill Mr. Duncan. I see it as an affirmation of the intrinsic worth of the life of each and every one of his victims. Anthony Martinez is due that much.

Posted by: Joe Power | Apr 20, 2010 8:54:53 PM

Since I live & pay taxes in Riverside, I just have to add my 2 cents to this story. I do not like spending the money to prosecute this case. There, I said it. Sure, the victims and their families support the prosecution and deserve justice, but at what expense?

Not mentioned in the article is Riverside County is facing a $131.5 million budget deficit for the fiscal year starting 1 July. County supervisors agreed to a 5% cut in the DA's budget, amounting to $3 million. This 5% is in addition to the 17% cut from the DA's budget since FY 2008.

Since there is no statute of limitations for murder, my solution, ahem, arm-chair quarterbacking, would be to send Duncan back to Indiana - housed at federal government expense - and then bring him back to Riverside County for prosecution when the county is no longer cutting funding for essential public services.

Posted by: ihate2fly | Apr 20, 2010 9:23:31 PM

sorry federalist dragging somone across the country who is already been tried, convicted and sentenced to MULTIPLE death sentences from one prison to another giving him/her multiple opportunatity to either escape or hurt or kill NEW VICTIMS just for the privilage to spend ANOTHER few MILLION on a trial that will change NOTHING it a textbook case of STUPIDITY!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 21, 2010 2:30:50 AM

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