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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Colorado: Aurora theater shooting trial cost taxpayers at least $3 million

James E. Holmes and attorney
James E. Holmes and attorney
Final cost of James Holmes' trial in the Aurora theater shooting likely won't ever be known

Jailing, evaluating and prosecuting the man who committed the Aurora movie theater shooting cost taxpayers at least $3 million, but the final expense of one of the mostly closely watched court cases in Colorado history may never be known.

The $3 million tab was compiled by The Denver Post following multiple open-records requests over the past year. It covers the amount spent from 2012 through 2015 specifically on preparing for and seeing through the trial of James Holmes.

Nearly $1.6 million of the cost was covered by federal grants.

When including the salaries of judges, prosecutors, sheriff's deputies and other government employees who spent most or all of their time on the case - but who would have been paid regardless - the total cost rises to more than $7 million.

And there's still a big chunk of expense missing from that amount. The state's taxpayer-funded public defenders - who represented Holmes - are not required to disclose what they spend on a case. Doing so, they say, would violate ethics rules and subject poor defendants to lower standards of attorney-client confidentiality.

Generally, the Office of the State Public Defender reports having spent nearly $2 million on death-penalty and potential death-penalty cases since July 2002, not including staff salaries.

The theater shooting trial was one of the longest in state history. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, and Holmes, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, underwent 2 psychiatric evaluations by state-appointed experts - at a cost of more than $600,000 to the state Department of Human Services. Holmes was ultimately found guilty of murdering 12 people and trying to murder 70 more in the July 2012 attack on the Century Aurora 16 movie theater; he was sentenced to life in prison without parole in August.

While the case prompted public debates about the cost of the death penalty and mental health evaluations, the single biggest expense that's been reported was for providing victims' assistance services. The Arapahoe County district attorney's office spent nearly $1.2 million on salaries for victims' advocates, travel expenses for victims to attend the trial and other costs. All of those costs were covered by a federal grant.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, whose office published its close-to-final cost figures last week, said the costs were about in line with what he expected. In addition to the federal grant, the state government appropriated about $500,000 to cover trial-related costs for the district attorney's office. He said more than half of what his office spent on the case was spent before the trial even began one year ago this month, and he rejected the criticism that seeking the death penalty ballooned the trial's price tag. Instead, Brauchler said the case was expensive because of the number of victims involved.

"He made that many victims," Brauchler said, referring to Holmes. "That's not a function of anything I picked. He made those victims."

Costs of the Aurora Theater Shooting Trial:

--18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, not including staff salaries: $1.73 million ($1.17 million covered by grant for victims' assistance services and $543,000 covered by state funding)

--Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, not including regular-time staff salaries: $735,000 ($403,000 covered by grant)

--Colorado Judicial Branch: $108,696

--Colorado Department of Human Services (for psychiatric evaluations): $612,000

Source: Denver Post, April 20, 2016

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