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The Cost of Justice: John Hernandez Felix Murder Trial

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The man convicted of shooting and killing Palm Springs police officers Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny will be sentenced Friday morning.

John Hernandez Felix faces the death penalty if the judge goes with the jury’s recommendation.

Justice has taken nearly three years and millions of dollars.

“It takes a lot of money to run a courtroom and a death penalty case ties up the courtroom for a long time,” says Assistant Presiding Judge Hon. John M. Monterosso.

There are multiple expenses in a case like this, from the cost of courtroom operations, to the cost of the district attorney for the prosecution, to the cost to taxpayer’s for the defendant’s defense.

In the Felix case, the public defender’s office had a conflict, so the county had to hire outside counsel.

The contracts for the two defense attorneys reveal local well-known defense attorney, John Patrick Dolan was paid $235,000.

Defense attorney Jacob DeVane was paid $65,000.

Both say they can’t comment until after the sentencing on Friday.

The county has guidelines used to decide what outside defense attorneys should be paid.

The worse the crime, the more the defense is paid.

Category A is for one victim and one defendant for a total of $105,000.

Category D starts at $195,000 for high profile, complex cases.

The Felix case was considered a D-plus with room to pay the defense more.

The defense attorney is just part of the cost.

The defense is able to get other expenses for investigators experts and other costs approved through a three-judge panel.

Higher profile cases also get the most experienced prosecutors and judges.

“The judges who do the capital cases are the most experienced judges and the most experienced criminal judges,” Monterosso says.

The courtroom is also a big expense with death penalty cases normally taking several weeks.

The annual budget for typical courtroom staffing is a little over $1.2 million dollars.

The cost of the prosecution isn’t tracked for each case but Hestrin says it’s significant.

“Overall, I think it’s safe to say, it’s in the millions to prosecute death penalty cases.”

He says the death penalty should be reserved for only the most heinous crimes, “The Felix case was a great example of a certain individual where the facts cried out for death.”

Seeking the death penalty is the district attorney’s choice, and he says cost can’t be part of the equation.

The costs of a case like this one won’t end with sentencing.

Appeals could go on for years.

If he gets death, Felix would join more than 700 others on death row.

An inmate has not been executed in California since 2006 and right now there’s a moratorium on executions.

KESQ 2019

I-Team / Investigative / News Headlines / Special Reports / Top Stories

John White

John White anchors News Channel 3 Live at 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m.on KESQ-TV and CBS Local 2. Learn more about John here.

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