Angola 5: A $9 million tab to taxpayers

Published: Oct. 15, 2012 at 9:56 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The I-Team sheds light on the enormous cost of our Judicial System. Thirteen years ago, a botched escape attempt from Angola ended in the death of a prison guard. The case is known as the Angola 5. Records obtained by the 9News I-Team show legal bills in the case are at $9 million, and taxpayers are footing the bill.

Baton Rouge Criminal Defense Attorney Jim Boren represented David Mathis for five years after he was accused of the first degree murder of an Angola prison guard back in 1999. Four others were also involved in the attempted break out. The legal proceedings are now in the appeals process - far from over - and the bill to taxpayers is astounding.

Court appointed attorneys and prosecutors have turned in their bills for work they've done so far, and records examined by the I-Team show the current total due to lawyers is a staggering $8.8 million.

"Criminal defense in capital cases is just through the roof," says Pete Adams who represents the state's 41 district attorneys. He says he's not surprised at the nearly $9 million bill.

"What's gotten out of hand is the defense costs in these kinds of cases," adds Adams.

The state's top bill came from Baton Rouge attorney Jim Boren. Boren billed the state for right at 1.5 million, but Boren says don't be fooled by that number. His fees, after expenses were only around $400,000, much less than he normally charges.

"So it's going to be about less than 1/3rd of that total. The rest of that money went to a team of fact investigators, mitigation investigators, mental health experts, DNA, and crime scene reconstruction experts. By far the most money spent in the Mathis case came from support services," says Boren.

Boren agrees the price of a capital defense is high, but he says don't just take the DOJ report at face value. In it says Boren is $1.58 million in costs incurred by District Attorneys offices that can bill the state when they are filling in for another jurisdiction, such was the case in Angola 5 because of a conflict with the West Feliciana D.A's office. Boren adds the state's decision to prosecute his client came at an enormous price to the state and it was all for nothing.

He says he offered for his client to plead guilty six years ago, and get a life sentence, but prosecutors at first declined saying they wanted the death penalty.

"Since I took over the case, the State of Louisiana has spent $2.5 million give or take a few bucks in order for the defendant to plead guilty to a life sentence... which they could have had done six years before, says Boren.

Prosecutors will tell you they have their own opinions about cases like these. Some believe the state's indigent defender board has rules making public defenders hire expensive experts to drive up the cost of these cases. They say the reason is so the public will eventually cave in and see that a sentence of "life in prison" is cheaper than the death penalty.

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