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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

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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