Joseph Duncan’s defense team spent about $400,000 preparing for his triple-murder trial in Coeur d’Alene before the trial was canceled last week after a last-minute plea bargain.
The Kootenai County public defender’s office paid private investigators and defense experts tens of thousands of dollars and spent hundreds more on meetings over meals, including some at upscale Coeur d’Alene restaurants, according to records obtained by The Spokesman-Review.
Local taxpayers won’t foot the bill for all of Duncan’s defense work – at least not directly. Everything but a $10,000 deductible will be reimbursed from a state fund that Idaho counties pay into to cover costs in death-penalty cases.
Kootenai County is responsible, however, for the costs of the criminal investigation and preparing a case against Duncan. Kootenai County spent more than $200,000 investigating Duncan’s crime, and the prosecutor’s office had about $3,600 in case-related expenses.
The county spent another $15,000 on courtroom modifications and upgrades and security measures for the trial.
Duncan’s lawyers submitted expenses for hundreds of hours billed by private investigators researching the admitted killer’s background and his family history. The records also hint at the defense strategy and give a glimpse into Duncan’s behavior while he sat in jail awaiting trial.
At one point Duncan refused to see a private investigator hired by his attorneys after she had spent more than 40 minutes at the jail waiting to see him. That same investigator, Joyce Naffziger, of Eugene, Ore., charged more than $40,000 for her work on the case, which began shortly after Duncan’s arrest in July 2005. She was also paid for thousands of dollars in travel expenses, including a three-night stay at a Coeur d’Alene bed and breakfast.
Naffziger traveled the country, visiting with Duncan’s mother and siblings, his former neighbor in Fargo, N.D., and his college instructors, friends and former employers. The private investigator has testified in other high-profile cases, including the 1999 trial of Oregon teen Kip Kinkel, who killed his parents and two classmates.
More than $17,000 was billed by Craig Beaver, a Boise neuropsychologist. Judith Becker, an Arizona professor who has worked with sexual assault victims and abusers, charged about $8,500 for consulting on Duncan’s defense.
Public Defender John Adams attended a capital defense seminar in Monterey, Calif., and others from his office received training billed to the Duncan case.
Adams, who did not return calls seeking comment for this story, also deposited $40 into Duncan’s jail account and spent $16.45 on clothing for Duncan.
Defense expenses include receipts for meals at local restaurants, including the Dockside at the Coeur d’Alene Resort and The Wine Cellar, as well as at Mulligan’s, The Ironhorse and Down the Street.
Kootenai County Commissioner Katie Brodie said it was some of those expenses that led county commissioners to issue a February 2006 memo requiring Adams to get pre-approval for all expenses.
“There was discussion over things like ‘a meeting over dinner,’ ” Brodie said. She said Adams told her, “I have begged someone to come in here, as a favor to me and as a favor to this case, for their expertise. If I have to spend $30 on dinner, it’s part of the fee.”
Brodie said there was a lot of discussion among commissioners about the costs of the case and they questioned Adams about many of the expenses.
“There are times when you are working around the clock” and through dinner, said Moscow attorney Tim Gresback, a certified capital defense attorney. He said it’s common for experts to expect, or even demand, their meals be covered.
“If we’re going to nitpick with extreme scrutiny the expenditures of the defense in any capital case, it would only be fair to subject the prosecutor and Sheriff’s Department to the exact same type of scrutiny,” Gresback said.
Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said his office didn’t have any meetings over meals or expenses related to the case other than $3,642 spent on equipment. The biggest expense was a $2,079 laptop computer.
County commissioners turned down the prosecutor’s request for a large-screen plasma TV.
Proponents of a plea bargain in the case had said avoiding trial could save the county $1 million. Douglas said he doesn’t understand where that figure came from. He sent a letter to commissioners in the spring saying he expected costs to the county to be much less. Douglas said he anticipated some expenses related to bringing victims’ family members to Coeur d’Alene for the trial.
The prosecution’s expert witnesses were mostly Idaho State Police and FBI employees, Douglas said. Travel expenses for those witnesses would have been paid by the agencies they worked for, he said.
So far, Kootenai County has been reimbursed nearly $200,000 of Duncan’s defense costs through the Idaho Capital Crimes Defense Fund.
If the case had gone to trial, defense costs were expected to reach about $500,000, according to Dan Chadwick, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, which administers the fund.
The fund was created in 1998 so a lack of money didn’t discourage a county from pursuing a death penalty case.
Chadwick said he doesn’t believe the public understands the cost associated with properly defending a death penalty case.
“These are not cheap cases at all,” he said.
All counties but Jefferson County support the fund, which reimburses counties for all defense costs in a capital case after a $10,000 deductible is paid.
Kootenai County paid $51,000 this year to the fund.