Colorado theater shooting case costs $2.2M before trial

Author: Associated Press

DENVER (AP) – Public spending to investigate and prosecute Colorado theater shooting defendant James Holmes has surpassed $2.2 million, weeks before opening statements in his trial, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

That figure does not include how much it has cost to defend Holmes, who is represented by the Office of the State Public Defender because he cannot afford private attorneys.

The number is neither complete nor exorbitant, said Hollis Whitson, a Denver defense attorney who specializes in appellate law and who has studied the costs of a Colorado death penalty case in terms of days spent in court. But, she added, tallying the total cost of a death penalty case in dollars is difficult if not impossible.

“In order to have a death penalty trial, even if you’re never going to execute a single person, there’s an enormous cost to maintaining the machinery of death,” which includes expert witnesses, specialists, private attorneys and others involved.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 on July 20, 2012. Jury selection began in January, and opening statements are set for April 27.

Holmes’ lawyers acknowledge he was the gunman, but they say he was in the grips of a psychotic episode. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Officials in the Denver suburb of Aurora, where the massacre occurred, say they have spent more than $928,500 on the case. That includes more than $517,000 in overtime pay for police and other city employees.

John Schneebeck, business manager for the Aurora Police Department, said Wednesday that the total includes other city departments, but he said a list of those departments and a breakdown of their share wasn’t available.

More than $200,000 of the overtime was for police officers who responded to the theater and to Holmes’ apartment, where explosives were found, he said. The U.S. Department of Justice reimbursed that expense, Schneebeck said.

Prosecutors previously said they had incurred more than $920,000 in costs, not including salaries, which would have been paid anyway. Court officials have said they have spent $435,000, mostly on courtroom security.

The $2.2 million figure highlights a debate over whether Holmes’ public defenders should have to disclose their costs. A bill to require public defenders to reveal such costs failed recently in the Colorado Legislature.

Public defenders are rarely required to release those costs, according to the National Association of Public Defense. They cite attorney-client privilege and argue that disclosure would unfairly tip prosecutors about how much is being spent on expert witnesses and investigative services.

The office of Colorado Public Defender Doug Wilson denies open-records requests for almost any information, not just inquiries about specific cases, according to state Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields and Republican Rep. Polly Lawrence, who sponsored the failed disclosure bill.

Wilson’s office currently has an $83 million operating budget to cover 160,000 cases, according to its website, which does not provide further details. The office has cited a gag order, attorney-client privilege and state Supreme Court rules for declining to disclose its expenses to the AP.

The FBI and the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department have refused to release their expenses in the case. The FBI said releasing its costs could interfere with an active case. Sheriff David Walcher cited security reasons, noting Holmes is still being held at the county jail.

Other federal, state and local agencies have spent at least $1.6 million in costs directly attributable to the Holmes case, according to records released by the agencies.

Costs for the state judiciary system include grants for courtroom security; printing and mailing; office equipment; and 10 new courtroom chairs to accommodate the 12 jurors and 12 alternates who will hear the case.

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