Lubbock County will soon be home to the first regional public defender office in Texas. The office will be devoted to handling only West Texas capital murder cases for those who cannot afford an attorney. This could mean big savings for taxpayers and county budgets.
For over 15 years Brian Murray has gone to court representing capital murder defendants.
"You're doing a lot if you've got one a year. That's probably more than you can save grace over if it's going to trial," said Murray.
In addition, in death penalty cases, trials can cost counties thousands in tax dollars. So in an effort to combat the cost, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense is expected to grant Lubbock County over $2.5 million for a West Texas Public Defender Office.
It will encompass more than 80 counties from the tip of the Panhandle, to Lubbock, and on down to Midland/Odessa and San Angelo.
Lubbock County Director of Court Administration David Slayton says, "In order to provide the best quality of defense for those charged with the crime we felt like it was necessary to increase the resources we had. The second reason is the cost."
To bring a death penalty case before a jury it is estimated to cost a county between $150,000 up to $500,000. But with a public defender office each county will pay a one-time fee. In Lubbock County's case that eventually will be $130,000 per year.
"Regardless if you do or don't or have maybe 5 or 6 capital murder cases that we may have this year you still are only going to have that one-time fee of paying on that rather than it be per case," Said Lubbock County Commissioner Patti Jones.
Lubbock County Commissioners are in favor of the office, along with District Attorney Matt Powell. Powell says its important defendants get the best representation possible.
"For one to ensure that a fair trial is done. And for number two once it's tried we want to make sure that's the only time it's tried," Powell said.
Murray says, "It's going to equalize resources in what the state able to bring to bear and what the defense may be able to bring to bear."
Austin is expected to give final approval for grant money, which would fully fund the office for one year on Friday. If approved, it is slated to open in October and begin taking clients January first.
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