Saturday, 9 May 2009

Death penalty study debated

By BRENDAN RILEYAssociated Press Writer

last updated: May 05, 2009 06:03:11 PM
CARSON CITY, Nev. -- ]

Death penalty opponents joined with advocates of more funding for schools and other services in arguing Tuesday for a plan to determine how costly it is to continue the death penalty in Nevada.

Under AB190, reviewed by the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, the study would be done by the lawmakers' staff and completed in time for the 2011 session.

The bill, sponsored chiefly by Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, was approved earlier on a 30-12 state Assembly vote.

Anderson said various studies around the country have shown that costs of dealing with capital cases are "alarmingly high," and the study would determine whether it makes "good fiscal sense to continue the death penalty system in Nevada."

Michael Pescetta, an assistant federal defender and death penalty foe who has been involved in many capital cases in Nevada, said there's no dispute that such cases are more costly than those that result in no-parole life sentences.

North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Stephen Dahl said the higher expense in capital cases stems from the U.S. Supreme Court's requirements for a high level of legal review because "death is different." He said an Iowa study showed a capital case can cost about $2.4 million compared with $1.5 million for all legal proceedings and other costs in a life-in-prison case.

Maizie Pusich, chief deputy Washoe County public defender, also backed the study, saying it will ensure that lawmakers don't "make a decision in the dark" on capital punishment. She added that as it is now a lot of money is spent on legal proceedings that could be used for education, human services and public safety programs.

Byllie Andrews of the Nevada Women's Lobby echoed the comments by Pusich, saying the funds required for capital cases might be better spent elsewhere.

Sam Bateman of the Nevada District Attorneys Association said his group was "somewhat skeptical" about the study results. But he added he appreciated the fact that the study would be done by legislative staffers who would remain neutral in doing the study.

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