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Study: Wash. Death Penalty Cases Cost Much More Than Similar Non-Death Penalty Cases

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
File photo from Nov. 20, 2008 of Washington state execution chamber in Walla Walla

Death penalty cases in Washington state cost the public one-and-a-half times as much as those where capital punishment isn’t on the table, Seattle University researchers have found.

The seven-month study was authored by Seattle University professors Robert Boruchowitz of the School of Law and Peter Collins of the criminal justice department.

They reviewed 147 aggravated first-degree murder cases in the state dating back to 1997. They found that each death penalty case cost the public, on average, about a million dollars more.

One reason cited for the extra costs is the higher level of expertise required when a defendant is facing possible execution. For example, the state Supreme Court requires that the accused be provided with at least two defense attorneys for trial who are specially trained and certified in capital punishment law.

The study was funded through a grant from the American Civil Liberties Union. Seattle University researchers say the ACLU had no influence on the findings.

Still, for death penalty opponents, a report like this is useful. With it, they can advance their cause using a financial as well as a moral argument. Last year, when Gov. Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on executions for the duration of his term, he cited the fact that they are so expensive as one of the reasons.

The cost of pursuing the death penalty has come up in King County, where three pending cases have already cost the county $15 million. Two of the cases involve the 2007 Christmas Eve killings in Carnation. Joseph McEnroe, whose trial starts next week, and his ex-girlfriend Michele Anderson, whose trial will take place after McEnroe's, both face the death penalty in the case, accused of murdering six members of Anderson’s family.

Also facing the death penalty is Christopher Monfort. His trial is set to begin later this month. He’s accused of gunning down Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton as Brenton sat in his patrol car on Halloween night 2009.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.