Today's Weatherford Democrat reports, "Program to help capital murder defendants, save county money." It's by Judy Sheridan and Christin Coyne.
Parker County commissioners recently voted to join the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases program, an action that could save the county thousands of dollars during the prosecution of expensive capital murder cases.
The program, funded through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, represents defendants who are charged with the offense of capital murder and are eligible for the death penalty but cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.
The organization helps participating smaller counties meet the legal requirement to provide access to counsel for those defendants by providing a core team of four — two qualified attorneys, a mitigation specialist and a fact investigator — as well funds for an investigation.
The program, which began accepting cases in November of 2007, became available to Parker County and other small counties in northeast and north central Texas Oct. 1.
Parker County, which hasn’t tried a capital murder case since 2001, currently has four capital murder cases pending.
To join the program, participating counties contribute according to a formula that takes into account both population size and the number of capital murder cases filed during a 10-year period, between 1998 and 2008.
The amount that counties contribute increases each year, reaching a maximum during year six. There is no cost to counties during the first year.
According to its recently approved contract, Parker County will pay $19,171 the second year, $25,561 the third, $38,341 the fourth, $51,121 the fifth and $63,902 in year six.
“It’s essentially an insurance risk pool,” Jack Stoffregen, chief public defender for the program, explained. “Counties hope they never have a case, but if they get one, they have protection.”
A capital murder case can cost $250,000 and up, Stoffregen said.