Howard County Joins Public Defender Task Force - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

Howard County Joins Public Defender Task Force

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

HOWARD COUNTY-- It cost them nothing to join, but it could save thousands of tax dollars.  Howard County Commissioners said yes, Monday morning, to joining the Public Defender Task Force, all to cut the cost of paying for a public defender in a death penalty case.

Howard County averages one capital murder case every ten years, according to Judge Mark Barr, it's a matter of doing your math.  And just like an insurance policy, you never know when you're going to need it, "If you had two, it's a good deal.  If you don't have any, it's a bad deal.  If you have one, it's about the same."

It would cost Howard County, anywhere between $80,000.00 and $200,000.00 for a capital murder case.  So it's no wonder commissioners voted to join the Public Defender Task Force, which would bring that cost down, considerably.

Judge Barr tells NewsWest 9, they are missing one key player in the game, "Howard County does not have an attorney that is certified to do capital murder cases."

There will be no expense to the county this year but as the judge explains, the fees will vary from year to year, "In 2009, we'll pay this task force a little over $10,000 and in 2011, it's a little over $8,000.  I believe it escalates in 2012, to a little over 20,000 dollars."

You may call it a coincidence, but the commissioners decision to join this task force, comes at the right time.  There are already two potential cases that would benefit from it.

"Of course we have one case that was kicked back to us on the Supreme Court on just the punishment phase.  So they're going to have to retry that.  That's possibly one.  And then there's the potential of this drive-by shooting that involved the pregnant girl.  That could be another one," Barr said.

Commissioners can opt out of the program with a 180 day notice.  So, for now, Judge Barr says, it's a wait and see situation, "We're just gonna kinda see, check the water and see how it is."

Tuesday's vote brings good news since Howard County has faced financial difficulties in recent years.

Other counties in the Permian Basin that have already joined this task force include Ector and Martin.    

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