Louisiana death penalty study in early phases

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Does the death penalty increase the cost of Louisiana murder cases? That's what a group at the Capitol wants to figure out.

This comes after a new study in Nevada suggests a capital punishment trial is more expensive than life behind bars.

"Our mission here is to determine the actual cost of prosecuting a capital case as opposed to a non-capital case," said John DeRosier, District Attorney for Calcasieu Parish and subcommittee co-chairman of the Capital Punishment Fiscal Impact Commission.

But before that mission can be accomplished, the commission must answer a big question- how many parishes should the study consider?

The Nevada study looked at just two of the state's 16 counties.

In East Baton Rouge Parish alone, the Defense Bar says there are currently 22 capital cases while some parishes have none.

"We have quite a bit of data on capital defense throughout the state," said Jay Dixon, LA State Public Defender.

To help with determining the size of the study, the commission is calling on the Public Defender's office.

"We probably have more data than just about any state that has done this. Basically a mountain of information, that other states do not have access to," said Dixon.

The Legislative Auditor will also play a major part.

"We will compare apples to apples," said Irina Hampton, Performance Auditor with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor

The commission wants the auditor's office to put boots on the ground- send staff to each potential parish in the study, analyze court records, and talk to judges and private lawyers.

In the middle of planning its approach, the group also mentioned the nation's anti-death penalty movement, those who want capital punishment abolished, people like Sidney Garmon.

"They're concerned about the amount of money that the state is spending on this form of punishment instead of taking that money and putting it into programs that will make our community safer," said Garmon, Executive Dir. of the LA Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

The commission will next meet February 25th. They've set a goal to finish the study by New Year's Day next year.

Copyright 2015 WAFB. All rights reserved.