Seattle University has released the results of a seven-month study into the costs of the death penalty in Washington state and has found a more than $1 million price break in cases where capital punishment is not sought.
The results of the analysis were officially to be made public by the university on Wednesday, but an early copy was provided Tuesday to The Seattle Times.
Criminal-justice professor Peter Collins called the study one of the nation’s most “rigorous” examinations of the costs associated with the death penalty.
Collins said he wasn’t surprised by the price difference.
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“I don’t know who coined this term, but this is social science supporting common sense,” he said on Tuesday. “I wasn’t surprised because there was so much anecdotal and other evidence that we’re spending money on these cases.”
In the study, Collins and three other professors reviewed 147 aggravated first-degree murder cases filed in Washington state since 1997, according to the study.
They found the average cost of a death-penalty prosecution and conviction is just over $3 million. Not seeking a death-penalty prosecution and sending a person to prison for life costs the state roughly $2 million.
“What this provides is evidence of the costs of death-penalty cases, empirical evidence,” Collins said. “We went into it [the study] wanting to remain objective. This is purely about the economics; whether or not it’s worth the investment is up to the public, the voters of Washington and the people we elected.”
The study was funded by a grant from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington Foundation.
Seattle University School of Law professor Bob Boruchowitz, the former head of one of King County’s top public-defense agencies, said that “as far as I know this is the only study of its kind in the country that combines the perspective of social scientists with capital [death penalty] qualified lawyers.”
“What I like about this report is it is very rich in terms of the explanation of why these cases cost so much and it’s rich in the data presented in a social-science point of view,” Boruchowitz said.
The study’s authors point to a rise in costs in death-penalty cases. Starting this month, two of three defendants charged in King County with aggravated murder will have their death-penalty trials begin. The prosecution and defense costs in the three cases have cost King County more than $15 million, according to figures supplied by county officials.
Next week, Joseph McEnroe is slated to be tried for allegedly killing six members of his former girlfriend’s family on Christmas Eve 2007. Michele Anderson, his former girlfriend, will be tried after him. Later this month, the trial of Christopher Monfort, accused of killing Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton on Halloween 2009, will begin.
The future of the death penalty in Washington remains unclear. Last February, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty while he is in office.