Printed on: October 31, 2013

Fund builds capital for capital cases

By RUTH BROWN
rbrown@postregister.com

It can cost a lot of money to defend someone facing the death penalty -- money typically paid by taxpayers.

Fortunately for the counties involved, the Idaho Association of Counties has about $4.5 million set aside as an insurance policy to fund death penalty cases.

The association reimbursed Ada County $700,000 in one case and $364,000 in another. A death penalty case in Bannock County resulted in a reimbursement of $72,000.

All Idaho counties except Jefferson pay into the capital defense fund to insure themselves in the event they pursue a death penalty prosecution.

Jefferson County's decision to opt out could prove costly should prosecutors seek the death penalty against Emmanuel Jesus Granados. Granados, 23, is charged with first-degree murder in the July 14 shooting death of Fermin Lemus, 22, of Rexburg, outside a Rigby party.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Robin Dunn said the County Commission decided when the fund was created Oct. 1, 1998, to opt out based on statistics. In more than 30 years as a prosecutor, Dunn has never sought the death penalty in a murder case.

"Statistically, larger counties are more likely to have capital cases," Dunn said. "We believe our funds would go to mostly funding those larger counties. So the commissioners made a conscious decision to (not contribute to the fund)."

Dan Chadwick, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, said the capital defense fund's annual premium of $600,000 is shared among participating counties, based on population.

Bonneville County pays $38,000 a year to the fund, Commissioner Roger Christensen said. The investment will come in handy as the county pursues the death penalty against Adan Arroyo. The 22-year-old Blackfoot man is charged with first-degree murder with a deadly weapon enhancement in the Jan. 19 shooting of Kristy Aschliman, 21, of Idaho Falls. Aschliman was shot four times in the head in rural Ammon.

Christensen said that because of the insurance, the county must pay only the first $11,000 of expenses that capital defense attorneys provide.

The fund pays for the defendant's chief attorney, who must be death penalty certified; experts used in court; mitigation costs; forensic costs; and other defense expenses.

Since the fund was created, the Idaho Association of Counties has reimbursed more than $4.1 million to counties prosecuting 35 capital-punishment cases, Chadwick said.

"Without the fund, (counties) would have to bear the cost themselves and they would have no way of saving for it," Chadwick said. "It would have a significant impact on counties."

The capital defense fund does not cover any prosecution fees. So, even without the capital defense fund, counties that pursue death-penalty cases already face an excessive funding burden.

In addition to the Arroyo case, Bonneville County also has another potential death-penalty murder case pending.

Antonio Marcos Bautista, 20, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 16-month-old Esmiie Quezada in Idaho Falls. The girl died of blunt-force trauma Dec. 31.

Prosecutors have not decided whether they will file a notice to pursue the death penalty, however.

The last case in which Bonneville County pursued the death penalty was the Todd R. Briggs murder case. Briggs killed his ex-fiancee, Melissa Mays Garcia, in October 2001, according to previous reports.

In that case, Briggs pleaded guilty and avoided the death penalty, so Bonneville County did not need reimbursement from the capital defense fund, Chadwick said.

Ruth Brown can be reached at 542-6750. Follow on Twitter @IFPost_Brown.