COSTS: Federal Case Reveals High Costs of Death Penalty Prosecutions

By Bill Rankin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Justice Department doesn’t often seek the death penalty, but this case appeared to be as close to a slam dunk as a prosecutor could get.

Brian Richardson was already serving the rest of his life in prison for armed robberies. Now he had methodically killed his cellmate at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta. After repeatedly stabbing and then strangling the 60-year-old man, Richardson decided to shave before alerting guards.

But the government didn’t get the death penalty for Brian Richardson. His jury could not reach a unanimous verdict so, by law, he received life without parole.

In the meantime, Richardson’s case required more than 20 lawyers and consumed thousands of hours of their time. It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from expert witnesses, some who cost the government $1,900 an hour but were never allowed to testify. And it derailed the careers of two federal prosecutors — one accused of defying a court order, the other caught making outrageous comments to a snitch on a recorded phone call.

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