The wheels of justice are often criticized for being slow, but with a Bend man's four-week murder trial happening now in Deschutes County, we take a look at the price of justice.
Richard Clarke is charged with murder in the beating death of his roommate, Matthew Fitzhenry. The 26-year-old could not afford an attorney, so the state assigned a defense team to his case.
This does not just pertain to people charged with murder, of course. Every day, the state assigns attorneys to defendants who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer on their own.
But a local lawyer told me Monday that it's the murder cases that strain the state's budget.
The Sixth Amendment ensures if you're charged with a crime, you have the right to have an attorney, whether you can afford to or not. And a contract between the state and local defense teams in Deschutes County ensures no matter what crime you're charged with, a public defender will not turn your case down.
"You've got some pretty heinous crimes -- if people had the opportunity to say no, there'd probably be some people that would end up not having an attorney at all," Tom Crabtree said Monday.
Crabtree, of Crabtree and Rahmsdorff, belongs to one of only two public defense firms in Bend that will take on a murder case. Each year, they're assigned a certain number of felony and misdemeanor cases.
"We have dollar values attached to each case type. In this case, a murder case has a value of $20,000," Crabtree said.
In cases like Clarke's, where the defendant pleads not guilty, that cost goes up considerably.
"If you have a trial, the meter is running," said Crabtree.
Clarke is halfway through what's expected to be a four-week trial. Expert testimony can make or break a case for either side -- and it does not come cheap.
"If you have a psychologist, usually the rate is $175 an hour that they charge. Forensic scientists will maybe be $150 an hour," Crabtree told me.
Every extra expense comes out of the state's budgeted piggy bank, filled by you -- the taxpayer.
Meanwhile, defendants such as Clarke -- who had no job and was more than $2,000 behind in rent when he was arrested and charged in his roommate's murder... could get away without paying a dime.
It all comes down to guidelines and what the defendant, in any case, has to his name. The maximum contribution the state can enforce in a case where someone is charged with aggravated murder is $15,000.
Even when the trial ends though, the state, and tax payers' burden continues.
When the jury came back with a guilty verdict in Steven Blaylock's murder trial in November, he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
Even if Blaylock gets out then, he will still have spent more than 9,000 days behind bars. An inmate costs the state around $82 every day. So in Blaylock's case, at the very minimum, we'll spend more than $750,000 to keep him locked up.