14 News Special Report: The High Cost of Justice - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

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14 News Special Report: The High Cost of Justice

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After a horrible crime we want someone to pay, but what price do we put on justice?

One local case has passed the half million dollar mark without a witness even being called and taxpayers are paying the bill. So when is enough, enough?

14 News looked at the legal process, the costs involved, and the playing field of both the prosecution and the defense.

A Vanderburgh County house fire became a murder scene after the bodies of 8-year-old Alyssa and 5-year-old Caleb Lynch were found inside. 

"That's pretty shocking and it's one that bothers you deep inside," Vanderburgh County Sheriff Eric Williams said.

That shocking case has the defendant, Jeffrey Weisheit, facing a possible death sentence, charged with torching his girlfriend's home in 2010 that killed her two children.

"The only thing I want is for the kids to be back in my arms. The only thing that would make me happy, the only thing I need are my kids," Lisa Lynch said. Lisa is the mother of Alyssa and Caleb.  

The Weisheit case has been moved to Clark County and hasn't even gone to trial, still the meter is running.

Vanderburgh County Councilman Ed Bassemier is opposed to spending any more.

"I think it's a lot to ask the taxpayers to continue to support the defense for this murder case. At the present time, the county council has appropriated $570,000. Of course, you know the last time I voted no against it and I'll continue to vote no," Bassemier said.   

14 News asked Prosecutor Nick Hermann what his office is spending compared to the defense.

"For the current death penalty case, we were appropriated $25,000. We spent $14,000 and the county council took $11,000 back. So to date, we've spent $14,000 on this case," Hermann said.

Hermann says his team is on a different playing field.

"We do it with the staff we have in house. Criminal Rule 24 sets up what has to be paid for the defense and that's where the price goes through the roof," Hermann told 14 News.

For Chief Public Defender Stephen Owens, Rule 24 means enhanced representation.

"The state has mandated certain levels of experience and training and said if you meet these standards, we will reimburse your county for 50 percent of the capital related expenses," Owens said. 

There's no cap on what can be spent.

"With the case pending, now you have a judge out of county ordering our county council to make payments on those bills," Hermann said.

For the defense, is the sky the limit in the Weisheit case?

"It's not exactly the sky's the limit, but certainly you leave no stone unturned and that can cost a lot of money," Owens said. "We start basically looking at everything from the defendant's childhood up to his entire life. We're looking at school records, mental health records, any physical, psychological, mental health issues that might impact on his judgment.

What if all those stones are not unturned?  If a judge receives a request from the defense for another expert witness and says no, that could actually drive up costs in the long run.

"That judge has the ability to say I'm not going to allow you to retain a neuro-psychological radiologist for example. The difficulty is going to be if he denies your ability to retain a certain expert and that becomes an issue. Then there's a good possibility the case is going to come back and be tried again," Owens told 14 News.

Being tried over and over again is former state trooper David Camm for the deaths of his wife, Kim, and their two children.  

"They think David's innocent. They're trying to do everything they can to prove he's innocent, but where's the new evidence at. He's been tried twice. He's been found guilty twice. What's changed," Kim's father, Frank Renn said. 

This case, which is not a death penalty case, has cost Floyd County over $3 million so far and possibly another million as Camm awaits his third trial.

Will the Weisheit case reach the million dollar mark or higher?

"It seems to me Clark County kind of got an open checkbook on Vanderburgh County, so I hope something can be done in the future to put a halt to this," Bassemier told 14 News.

Another reason costs are so high in the Weisheit case is that a new lead defense attorney had to be appointed after the sudden death of attorney Timothy Dodd.

Councilman Bassemier told 14 News he's been in contact with state lawmakers to see if anything can be done to put a cap on spending.

Another option could be a special team of state appointed prosecutors and defense attorneys assigned to death penalty cases, a system similar to what's in place in Kentucky.

In Illinois, there's no death penalty. Which leads to our poll question, are you in favor of the death penalty?  Tell us what you think right here in this story.

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