Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Addison trial cost state nearly $3m

The taxpayer cost to prosecute, defend and sentence William “Stix” Addison for the October 2007 murder of a Manchester police officer has reached nearly $3 million and will grow by half a million dollars a year while he appeals the verdict.

Meanwhile, state prosecutors spent $2.4 million to convict John Brooks, of Londonderry, for ordering the 2005 murder of a Derry handyman.

The jury turned down the state’s bid to apply the death penalty and instead Brooks is now serving serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire spent Friday examining the costs to carry out capital punishment.

The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939 and it’s a rare event that two capital murder cases went all the way to the jury in the past two years.

Retired, Superior Court Chief Justice Walter Murphy said gauging the cost to execute someone versus life in prison without parole is a key charge the Legislature gave this commission.

“We appreciate the cost is not driving anything here, but I think there is a public perception that somehow the prosecution of someone for a non-capital offense is cheaper,” said Murphy who chairs the commission.

The commission learned Friday it will be difficult to come up with all those costs.

Deputy Attorney General Orville “Bud” Fitch said it has cost $1.6 million already for the prosecution in the Addison case. This does not include costs spent by local and state police to investigate and testify in the matter.

Addison is indigent, so the state paid for his defense.

NH Public Defender Executive Director Christopher Keating told commissioners that by next June 30 the state will have spent $1.3 million to defend Addison and appeal his verdict to the state Supreme Court. Keating estimates the defense will spend about $400,000 each year on Addison’s appeal. Fitch said the AG’s office couldn’t give an estimate on what their appeal expenses will be. Judicial Council Executive Director Nina Gardner said added to defense costs are earlier expenses the state incurred defending Addison against other felony crimes that led up to the murder.

By comparison, Gardner estimates her office spends $70,000 to $100,000 in costs to defend someone charged with murder in the first degree, a crime that does not carry death as an ultimate punishment.

Costs on both sides vary greatly with the circumstances of the crime, Fitch stressed.

“We don’t normally track this sort of thing because we don’t think the life of a victim should have a particular number attached to it,” Fitch said.

Attorney General Michael Delaney supports the death penalty law; Gov. John Lynch has vowed in the past to veto any legislation that would repeal it. Senate Republican Leader Peter Bragdon, of Milford, and Mont Vernon Republican State Rep. William O’Brien are working on their own proposals to expand the law in response to the brutal slaying Oct. 4 of Kimberly Cates in her Mont Vernon home.

The state’s death penalty law is narrowly drawn to cover premeditated murders against judges, court officers, members of law enforcement or if it’s part of a murder-for-hire scheme or linked to a felony rape, kidnapping or major drug deal. Murphy said the commission might not be able to answer the cost-comparison issue completely.

Edward Dieter is executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., group that studies capital punishment and issued several reports that conclude capital punishment is not less expensive. “One of the reasons states are moving away from it is it is a frustrating and costly process,” Dieter said.

State and national studies prompt Dieter to conclude government costs on these cases can run as high as $30 million annually in states that charge many offenders with a capital crime. One in three offenders who get convicted at trial receive a death sentence. Then nationally only one in 10 who get sentenced will be executed because many die on death rows before that punishment is carried out.

Last year, the Urban Institute did the most recent state study for a similar death penalty commission in Maryland. It concluded that state spent $186 million over 20 years that resulted in the execution of five offenders. That works out to $37 million per offender.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or

“It may be that we will come to the conclusion that we can’t tell,” Murphy said.

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