Lawrence Buser of The Memphis Commercial Appeal recently added up the costs of the death penalty trial of Jessie Dotson.Jury selection took place in Nashville,Tn. and the jurors were taken to Memphis for the trial.Mr.Dotson was convicted in the first degree murder of six men , women , and children . The trial is believed to be the most expensive trial in Shelby County history totaling over $ 450,000.00 so far.Years of appeals and related proceedings lay ahead.So what is the cost of the death penalty ?
Shelby County Sheriffs Office’s part of the tab was $167,310 which included security , overtime , and expenses of the sequestered jury. Over $250,000.00 was paid for defense counsel , a private investigator , a mitigation expert , and another expert witness.Also , the District Attorney , Judge , and court personnel were employees of the state and not included in the dollar amount.The cost will climb after appeals , post conviction hearings, and numerous trips to the federal courts and maybe even the U.S. Supreme Court.
Does the expense of a death penalty trial make economic sense ? One option is to offer a plea to murder with life without parole in lieu of the death penalty.Knowing you are going to die in prison has to be a powerful punishment.I understand from the family’s perspective that a horrific crime deserves big punishment. How do we balance justice with cost effective punishment.Mr. Dotson’s bill is close to a half a million and the other mass murderer on death row Paul Dennis Reid bill is at $ 420,000.00 and counting.
Some people might think that we just need to eliminate the lawyers and the appeals.The ultimate penalty deserves the ultimate defense as mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
"People will say there was an eyewitness, why have a trial, but what if the guy’d been found innocent?" said Criminal Court Judge James Beasley Jr. "Do we put a price tag on the freedoms we have in our country? Is there a price tag for the justice system? When do we say that’s too much?"
I think Judge Beasley’s commentary bears some discussion . However , it’s still cheaper than the lawyers charged the City of Nashville for the convention center.