In Arizona, 119 inmates call death row home, and the majority of them have been locked up for several decades.
The last 10 Arizona inmates who were executed spent an average of more than 20 years in a Florence super maximum security facility within Arizona State Prison Complex Eyman called the Browning Unit.
"Our clients are in their cells for all (day), except they get out three times a week for one hour," Natman Schaye, senior capital trial counsel of the Arizona Capital Representation project, said.
Schaye helps Arizona's death row inmates with both their state and federal appeals. He said it is a lengthy process that begins once a jury sentences an inmate to death.
"You then have a direct appeal," he said. "Then there is a post-conviction (review) back in state court that is looking at whether the trial was done correctly. That gets appealed again, and then it goes to federal court. So, it goes on and on."
Debra Milke's case is a prime example of the lengthy appeals process associated with capital cases in Arizona. Milke was sentenced to death for the murder of her 4-year-old son in January of 1991. After dozens of appeals, a federal judge overturned her conviction in 2013.
The former death row inmate's co-counsel, Lori Vopel, explained Milke is now awaiting retrial and has two pending appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It can be very, very long and drawn out," Vopel said. "Even though we won in our 1st round of appeals, in Debra's case, she was on death row for 23 years."
On top of the long process, capital adjudication fees and death row housing costs eventually add up to millions of dollars in taxpayer money. When a prosecutor seeks the death penalty, a defendant is guaranteed 2 defense attorneys. That results in approximately double the cost for taxpayers.
In the Jodi Arias case, the bill has been exponentially increasing since the sentencing phase mistrial.
"She's only gotten through the guilt-innocence determination phase and her defense costs are already over $2 million," Chuck Laroue, a Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona board member, said.
Laroue said Arias' trial has certainly lightened taxpayers' wallets. Now, jury selection for her sentencing phase retrial is underway.
"And the taxpayer is the one that is shouldering the burden of the financial costs on this," he said.
The numbers are staggering when a death sentence is given. Inmates sit on Arizona's death row for an average of 23 years before execution. At $81.11 per day, the state spends an average of $680,918.45 in housing fees per death row inmate.
In total, death row housing fees cost the Arizona Department of Corrections $3,523,012.85 each year.
"It is a much higher level of security than your standard department of corrections unit - even your high-security unit," Laroue said.
The housing costs, however, do not even begin to cover capital adjudication fees, according to Death Penalty Alternatives President Dan Pietzmeyer.
"The primary costs are trial costs, litigation costs and appeals costs," Pietzmeyer said.
A sentence of life without parole guarantees savings for taxpayers.
"It is far, far more expensive to seek to execute (an inmate), whether or not you execute them," he said.
The cost of housing an inmate in general population comes in at less than $60 dollars per day and there's a limited appeals process, which trims court costs.
Laroue said he believes the state of Arizona needs to conduct a study to find out what the death penalty costs.
"There's actually been some analysis done in Arizona, but it hasn't been that comprehensive," Laroue said.
Before the state carries out another execution, Laroue said it is only fair that Arizona conduct an analysis to determine exactly how much taxpayer money is spent each year killing inmates.
"We know from other studies that if you compared the actual costs from the investigation to the time that an execution is actually carried out, it is probably 6 to 7 times higher for a death penalty case than it is for a life without parole (sentence)," he said.
Source: KTAR news, October 1, 2014