Mohave County expects to spend more than $650,000 prosecuting death penalty cases this year. The County Attorney’s Office is working two capital cases toward trial while three other cases are in the post conviction relief (mandatory appeal) phase.
The county had already spent about $338,000 in this arena by mid-April and the Board of Supervisors approved an allocation of an additional $330,000 during its April 18 meeting.
There was no discussion of the morality or merits of capital punishment, but the issue of expense was raised by Board member Hildy Angius.
“What I’m concerned about is the cost. I was a huge proponent of the death penalty, however, we rarely do follow through on them anymore as most people know. They go on for years and years and years and it seems the only people who make money are the lawyers and everyone involved in it,” Angius said. “I think as a community and as a county, we need to have this discussion.”
County attorney Matt Smith said his office takes a number of things into consideration before deciding to seek a death sentence in a first degree murder case. Smith essentially said there must first be determinations that a conviction can be secured and that the trial jury can be persuaded to impose a death sentence.
Smith said these and other matters are contemplated when he, chief deputy Jace Zack and the case prosecutor meet to decide whether the county should pursue a death sentence.
“Do we factor in financial considerations,” Smith asked rhetorically. “That’s not supposed to be what we do but realistically is that something we look at? Yes.”
Board member Steve Moss, a licensed attorney, expressed trust in the county attorney’s office to make the right decision, and support for pursuit of capital punishment.
“There can be an honest disagreement as to whether the death penalty is a good thing or a bad thing,” Moss said. “I think we should fund this. I think that we should continue to pursue the death penalty for heinous crimes and when there are children involved and other horrible things. The prosecutor’s office does a good job. As a funding source we need to do this because we can’t back up, not even an inch.”