Justice#039;s Price: Murders, other crime cost county

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"We're overwhelmed."

That was the way Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. described the increasing mountain of cases his staff must contend with this year, two of which are murder cases, and one of which may be the

county's first death penalty case in six years.

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Collier said the number of felony cases in Lawrence County is on the rise, and he expects

that he and his staff of four assistant prosecutors and two investigators will handle 300 cases in Common Pleas Court by the end of the year.

This figure does not include juvenile cases, crimes handled

and disposed of in the county's two municipal courts and civil matters for which the prosecutor's office is obligated to respond.

"We're at 250 (cases) now and this is just September. I think we'll meet 300 easily. I think this is one of the highest crime rates Lawrence County has ever had," Collier said. "And unfortunately this comes at a time when the county is financially pressed and this office is not immune from that."

If a rising crime rate is not enough, the prosecutor's office is currently handling two murder cases: Roger Marshal was arrested in August in connection with the deaths of three people at the Lyle Motel in Ironton; earlier this month Carlos L. Jenkins, of Ironton, was arrested in connection with the death of David Turvey, also of Ironton. Murder cases pose

greater problems for an office already burdened with a short staff and a long list of criminal cases. Collier said both in terms of time and money, murder cases can be particularly expensive.

"Each case is different," Collier said. "It depends on whether there is a need for expert witnesses, what kind of defense the other side presents. If they have expert witnesses we have to have expert witnesses to match theirs. It could quickly run into lots of money. … It's a drain on our county, no question about that."

And money is something Lawrence County does not readily have available.

If the defendant is indigent, the cost of his or her defense is also paid for by the county; with some of the cost later reimbursed by the state. Collier estimated that 80 percent of the felony cases in Lawrence County involve an indigent defendant.

If the person faces the death penalty for a murder, the cost of defense is even higher. Only certain attorneys specifically certified by the state are allowed to defend people who face the death penalty.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said $400,000 was appropriated for indigent defense this year. He said the blow of paying for a death penalty case could be softened somewhat by time: part of the cost of defense in both cases will fall under the 2004 budget, part of it could be paid for out of the 2005 budget that begins in January.

"We just have to take it as it comes," Stephens said. He said it was not uncommon for the county commission to appropriate additional money toward the end of the fiscal year to the indigent defense fund.

Collier said one of the most expensive cases for the county was the Volgares murder trial in 1997.

"We sent people to Oklahoma (where defendants Jack and Mona Volgares were apprehended), and we had to house them, transport the prisoners back here. There were forensics tests. It ended up being in excess of $20,000 outside of our regular expenses."

Collier said Lawrence County is not alone in its financial problems.

He said some counties are under such severe financial constraints that prosecutors in those counties do not pursue death penalty convictions because of the costs involved not only in presenting a case against the person but in the cost of defense if that person relies on the government's assistance to pay for attorneys.

Collier said in spite of what it costs in time or money, he and his staff have a job to do, and it is their intention to do that job to the best of their ability.

"We take it very seriously, every case we have to prosecute. The staff in our office is dedicated. You have to be to do what we do. We're trying to do justice for this community."