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Wesson trial costs over $1 million

The Fresno Bee, USA
Aug. 3, 2005
Pablo Lopez
www.fresnobee.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday August 4, 2005

The trial of condemned mass murderer Marcus Wesson cost Fresno County more than $1 million that could have paid for law enforcement or to fix up parks and rural neighborhoods.

The $1,095,479 figure released Tuesday by Wes Merritt, chief county counsel, does not include the expenses for Wesson’s entire time in the jail, nor the cost of the Fresno Police Department’s massive investigation.

Wesson was transported Tuesday to San Quentin State Prison’s death row. Sheriff’s officials said Wesson arrived at San Quentin shortly after 5 a.m. The trip from Fresno to the prison, which is near San Francisco, takes about three hours. Once there, officials cut his long, graying dreadlocks.

The trip closed the door on one of the most expensive legal sagas in Fresno County history.

Bart Bohn, the county’s chief administrative officer, said the money to pay for Wesson’s prosecution came from a discretionary pot that could have been used to hire sheriff’s deputies, repair parks, construct sidewalks in rural towns and address other neglected areas.

Bohn said he anticipated the high cost to prosecute Wesson, especially since the county criminal justice system’s roughly $280 million budget to support prosecutors, public defenders, sheriff’s deputies and probation officers takes a big chunk of the county’s $1.56 billion budget.

Asked if prosecuting Wesson was worth it, Bohn replied: “The Board of Supervisors supports public safety and has made it a priority.”

Ultimately, it was District Attorney Elizabeth Egan’s decision to seek the death penalty against Wesson, Bohn said. Efforts to reach Egan on Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The Wesson case was Fresno’s worst mass murder nine of his children were shot to death inside the family’s home during a child-custody dispute March 12, 2004. In addition to the nine murders, Wesson, 58, was convicted in June of sexually abusing his daughters and nieces.

On July 27, Judge R.L. Putnam affirmed the jury’s verdict in Fresno County Superior Court and formally sentenced Wesson to die by lethal injection.

In addition to the death penalty, Wesson was given a 102-year prison term for 13 sex crimes, including sexual abuse and rape.

City of Fresno spokesman Ken Shockley said the Police Department still is calculating costs for its investigation as well as time officers and detectives spent in court testifying. The money for police comes from the city’s discretionary fund, which pays for firefighters, parks and other services.

Because Wesson didn’t work and had no money, Fresno County taxpayers paid for his defense. His legal team was led by Peter Jones and Ralph Torres of the county’s Public Defender’s Office.

Defending Wesson cost $175,000 for the salaries and benefits of the public defenders and their support staff, Merritt said.

The defense team also was given $120,000 for forensic experts.

In addition, the defense received money for experts and their research, Merritt said, but that amount is confidential under state law.

During the trial, the Public Defender’s Office asked county supervisors to approve $199,000 to pay for expert witnesses needed to testify because money previously set aside for Wesson’s defense had run out.

The board approved the request, but at least two supervisors, Henry Perea and Bob Waterston, expressed strong opposition, saying it was unfair for taxpayers to pay for someone who had taken advantage of the system for years.

It cost more to prosecute Wesson. Salaries and benefits for prosecutor Lisa Gamoian and her support staff cost $419,175, Merritt said.

The prosecution also spent $301,901 for experts and scientific research into Wesson’s alleged mind control tactics, which Putnam kept out of the trial because he ruled it speculative and prejudicial toward Wesson.

According to Merritt, the bill for Wesson’s stay in the downtown Fresno jail from March 12, 2004, to July 1 this year cost about $79,402. The total includes a guard who watched Wesson in his cell at a cost of $31.42 an hour, Merritt said.

According to Stefanie Faucher, program director of Death Penalty Focus in San Francisco, more than a dozen counties in California have decided not to seek death in qualified cases because of the high cost.

The cost will rise, Faucher said, because it will take four years or more before Wesson gets a lawyer to start the appeal process.

It will take years, if not decades, before he is put to death, she said.

Among the death row inmates from Fresno County is Douglas Stankewitz, who was sentenced to die 1978 for abducting and fatally shooting 22-year-old Theresa Graybeal.

Stankewitz has been on death row nearly 27 years.

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