Prosecutors say their failed attempt to send a Colorado Springs double murderer to death row added $109,000 to the cost of the trial — a sum legal observers say falls short of revealing the true expense involved in the death penalty’s legal thickets.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office released the estimate last week after an El Paso County jury rejected sentencing Glen Law Galloway to death, resulting in his receiving life without parole plus 171½ years.
The $109,000 represents a fraction of the millions that likely were spent pursuing the death penalty, said Denver civil rights attorney David Lane, a longtime critic of capital punishment who represents a man facing the death penalty in the fatal slashing of an Ordway prison guard.
“It drives up the cost of a murder prosecution exponentially,” Lane said, noting that the district attorney’s figure didn’t include costs incurred by the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, which represented Galloway, or the court resources consumed in litigation, including the salaries of prosecutors, police, judges and clerks and others involved.
They would have been paid in any case, but people critical of capital cases say their time could have been better spent solving and prosecuting other rapes, robberies and shootings.
Jailing, evaluating and trying Aurora theater shooter James Holmes cost taxpayers $3 million between 2012-2015, The Denver Post reported in 2016.
That figure would rise to $7 million if it included salaries paid to sheriff’s deputies, police, judges, prosecutors and others who worked almost exclusively on the case but would have been paid anyway, The Post found in its investigation.
The cost of capital cases has long factored into the debate over Colorado’s death penalty, which is rarely sought and seldom imposed.
But the issue is likely to attract new attention in El Paso County, where the District Attorney’s Office under Dan May filed for two new capital cases within days of a jury throwing out the death penalty against Galloway.
Prosecutors on Friday filed notice they would seek the deaths of Diego Chacon and Marco Garcia-Bravo, the alleged shooters in what is believed to be gang-related killings of two Coronado High School students, The Gazette confirmed. The decision was expected to be discussed in court later this month, at a hearing set for July 31.
Death-penalty cases involve uniquely complex legal questions, subject to rapid change based on new rulings from higher courts.
In the Galloway prosecution, for example, more than 100 motions were filed and argued before the case reached opening statements, and the court cleared at least two weeklong blocks of court time for pretrial hearings.
A 2013 study by two University of Denver law professors found that capital cases consume five times the number of court days compared with noncapital murder prosecutions.
Jury selection alone spanned 2½ months and involved whittling down a potential jury pool of 2,800 people.
When it comes time to argue the appropriateness of the death penalty, expert witnesses are often the star of the show, charging thousands of dollars per day for testimony that wouldn’t be needed in a noncapital murder case, Lane said.
Of the costs the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office attributes to the death penalty process, the lion’s share — $81,000 — was paid to a single expert witness, University of Iowa criminologist Matthew DeLisi.
DeLisi would have testified that Galloway would be likely to commit new crimes inside prison because of his defiance of authority and record of disciplinary problems in court, in what lead prosecutor Reggy Short called a critical element of his case for death.
But Judge Gregory Werner barred DeLisi from testifying when the defense decided not to call its expert witness to address whether Galloway posed a future danger .
Had the case proceeded to the final stage, Short said DeLisi’s work was central to obtaining a death penalty. Short called DeLisi’s $2,000 a day fee for testifying typical for his field — an assertion backed by Lane, the death penalty critic. The rest of what he was paid was for a voluminous written analysis he prepared.
So long as costs are in line with industry standards and do not “shock the conscience,” Short said his first priority is building a successful case, and that he’s “fortunate” to get support from his supervisors.
“If it’s something we need to do for the case, I’m fortunate enough to work in an office that says, ‘Go do that.’”
Lee Richards, the district attorney’s spokeswoman, said the remainder of the more than $100,000 tab went for transportation and lodging for death penalty witnesses. A state fund reimbursed the local prosecutor’s office for its death penalty expenses, Richards said, but further details weren’t immediately available.
Putting a precise cost on capital cases is difficult, because their effects are spread across many agencies and offices, according to the 2013 University of Denver study, by Justin F. Marceau and Hollis A. Whitson.
The authors cite a 2013 disclosure by Alternate Defense Counsel Lindy Frolich that a first-degree murder case costs her office $16,000 per year per case, while a capital murder case costs $400,000 per year. The state Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel pays private attorneys to represent the indigent when public defenders cannot take a case.
The Public Defender’s Office on Friday denied a written request to inspect Galloway’s trial costs, saying the information is part of the defendant’s confidential client file. The office routinely denies requests for information regarding trial costs for that reason.
Among other costs involved in the Galloway trial were $50,000 spent by the state court system preparing a courtroom to accommodate the case, including an enlarged jury box and audio-visual upgrades in one of the courthouse’s aging courtrooms.
A senior judge was also required to cover the docket of Werner, who presided over the trial for four months.
While it’s unclear if Galloway intends to appeal, most death-penalty cases get a second life postconviction, with appeals often stretching on for a decade, spanning hundreds more legal filings.
Two inmates have active death sentences, both bound up in appeals.
In 1997, convicted murderer and rapist Gary Lee Davis became the only Colorado inmate to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1975.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to correct the date of the next court appearance by Diego Chacon and Marco Garcia-Bravo.