ALABAMA – Expense and execution – Death-penalty cost issue resurges as state struggles

May 30, 2012 Source :

As many states look for ways to reduce spending, a battle is brewing between supporters and opponents of the death penalty.

Opponents contend states could save millions of dollars by abolishing the death penalty. Proponents argue the death penalty is needed to punish defendants convicted of heinous homicides, even when it means decades of paying attorneys to argue the merits of a death sentence and for housing an inmate, such as former Sheffield resident Tommy Arthur.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, chief of Alabama’s death penalty litigators, said he is unsure how much the state has spent attempting to carry out Arthur’s execution, which was first ordered in 1983.

“It’s been so long, I’m not sure if anyone knows how much the state has spent keeping Tommy Arthur on death row all these years,” Crenshaw said.

Arthur, 70, has been on death row for 29 years for the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of Muscle Shoals resident Troy Wicker. His conviction was overturned twice on technicalities. The state Supreme Court has set an execution date for Arthur five times only to have it halted when defense attorneys raised legal issues, most recently in March when they objected to Alabama’s use of the drug pentobarbital in executions.

Arthur continues to maintain his innocence.

Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said the agency does not keep tabs on the amount of money spent on legal fees for death row inmates, only the cost of housing them, which is now about $43 per day. He said the department does not separate the cost of housing inmates on death row from the expense of keeping them in other areas of a prison.

Alabama has 101 men and four women on death row. The average age of the death row inmates is 41 and they have been there an average of 11 years and 7 months, Corbett said.

Richard Deiter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said states typically do not keep track of the amount of money spent on a single inmate from the time they are sentenced to death until an execution takes place.

“There’s probably not anyone in Alabama who knows exactly how much money has been spent keeping Mr. Arthur on death row, but there is no doubt it has been very expensive,” Deiter said. “All states need to take a serious look at how much they are spending on death penalty cases and decide if it is money well spent.”

Crime victims groups and death penalty proponents contend the cost of capital punishment is offset by the value it provides in deterring homicides and punishing criminals convicted of the most heinous murders.

Deiter contends the money spent on executions should be used to prevent crime.

“The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime,” Deiter said. “Some of the states with the highest number of executions also have the highest homicide rates. Studies have shown it can cost more than $30 million to carry out an execution. Only one in 10 death penalty cases results in an execution and when you combine the legal fees for the appeals of all of those defendants, it makes that one execution very costly. That money could be better spent on hiring more police officers, installing better lighting in high-crime areas, providing education aimed at preventing crime and doing other things to make sure crimes do not happen.”

Miriam Shehane, executive director of Montgomery-based Victims of Crime and Leniency, disagrees.

“I don’t care how much it costs to execute someone, we need the death penalty,” she said. “The death penalty opponents want to argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment. My daughter was abducted, then raped for hours and shot repeatedly. Was that not cruel and unusual punishment? The punishment needs to fit the crimes and for some murders, the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment.”

Shehane’s daughter Quenette was kidnapped and killed in Birmingham in 1976.

Three men were convicted of her murder. One was executed, another was sentenced to life in prison without parole and the other sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Lauderdale Circuit Court Judge Mike Jones said he never considers the potential cost of incarceration and future legal expenses when deciding if a defendant convicted of capital murder should be sentenced to death. He said that decision is based on the jury’s recommendation and the circumstances of the homicide.


When a defendant is convicted of capital murder in Alabama, the jury then hears additional evidence before recommending the death penalty or life in prison without parole as punishment. The judge is not obligated to follow the recommendation when imposing the punishment.

“We don’t need to put someone to death because it’s cheaper than keeping them in prison for the rest of their life,” she said. “At the same time, we shouldn’t not put someone to death because it might be more expensive than keeping them in prison. You don’t make a life or death decision based on economics.”

Jones has imposed the death penalty twice.

He sentenced David Dewayne Riley Jr. to death in 2007 for the 2005 shooting death of Florence package store clerk Scott Michael Kirtley. He sentenced Riley, 27, to death again in 2011 after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his first conviction on a technicality. The jury at both trials recommended that Riley receive the death sentence for the execution-style shooting.

Jones said the possible cost of sending Riley to death row never crossed his mind before carrying out the recommendation of the juries.

“The Alabama Legislature may someday decide we can no longer afford to send people to death row,” Jones said. “That’s a decision they would have to make and until they do, I am going to continue to carry out the recommendations of juries who say someone deserves the death penalty when the circumstances of a murder warrant sending a defendant to death row.”

Political battle

Shehane said the Legislature will face a tough battle from her organization and other capital punishment proponents if it ever attempts to abolish the death penalty in Alabama as a way to save money.

Deiter said with the cost of defending death sentences in the appeals process and even the expense of purchasing the drugs used in executions increasing, some states might have to replace capital punishment with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the hope of parole as a way to punish defendants convicted of the most brutal homicides.

“All states with the death penalty (will have) to decide if it is worth the expense when they are having to cut back in so many other areas, including courts and police,” Deiter said.

For Alabama, Shehane said, the money spent sending defendants convicted of capital murder to death row and carrying out their execution is worth the expense.


Top 10 states for number of inmates on death row as of Jan. 1:

  • California 703
  • Florida 402
  • Texas 312
  • Pennsylvania 211
  • Alabama 202
  • North Carolina 166
  • Ohio 151
  • Arizona 153
  • Georgia 99
  • Louisiana 89

Source: Death Penalty Information Center


Daily inmate maintenance costs in Alabama

  • 2000 $25.47
  • 2002 $26.07
  • 2004 $27,92
  • 2006 $36.67
  • 2008 $41.47
  • 2010 $42.30

Source: Alabama Department of Corrections


Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center


State Total 2011 2012
Texas 482 14 5
Virginia 109 1 0
Oklahoma 99 2 3
Florida 73 2 2
Missouri 68 1 0
Alabama 55 6 0
Georgia 52 4 0
Ohio 47 5 1
North Carolina 43 0 0
South Carolina 43 1 0

Source: Death Penalty Information Center


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