The death penalty has cost Maryland taxpayers at least $186 million more in prosecuting and defending capital murder cases over two decades than would have been spent without the threat of execution, asserts a new study from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute. Because most death sentences in Maryland are overturned and eventually reduced to life without parole, state residents are often saddled with the high cost of a capital case and the bill for housing a convicted killer for life, the study found.
Funded by the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, the study estimates that the cost of reaching a single death sentence costs the state an average of $3 million, $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case costs, even after factoring in the long-term costs of incarcerating convicted killers not sentenced to death. The report comes as state lawmakers prepare to debate repealing the death penalty. “This is a compelling argument against the death penalty – the enormous costs to the state’s taxpayers,” said Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, a death penalty opponent. The top prosecutor in Baltimore County – which accounts for the most capital cases in the state, assailed the study’s use of attorneys’ salaries to calculate the cost of the death penalty in Maryland. “That is a completely worthless number, because we don’t go out and hire new lawyers to try these cases,” said State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger. “They get assigned to my most experienced lawyers, who will work as many hours as it takes to put the case on, and don’t get any more money.”