The first of two, highly charged murder trials in Logan County could cost a lot more than the several hundred thousand dollars budgeted. Back in September of 2009, five members of the Gee family were killed in their Beason home. Nearly three and a half years later, a trial date is set for late April. Up until now we've just been looking at the price of an initial trial.
A Springfield criminal defense attorney tells us if there's a conviction the appeals process could drag on for 10 to 12 years after --all of it on the taxpayer's dime. Christopher Harris and his brother Jason Harris are accused of killing the family-- aged 11 to 46. They are innocent until proven guilty. Logan County Board members tell us a judge says it will cost around $600-thousand to try the brothers.
"On the finance committee-- we're dealing with the numbers and that's why we rely on the estimates that the judge had given us. We do not know the particulars. We do not know what the real specific, anticipated costs are," Jan Schumacher from the Logan County Board Finance Committee said.
Christopher Harris's first degree murder trial is set for April 29-th. There's no date yet for the trial of his brother. Michael J. Costello of the Costello Law Office in Springfield thinks trial costs will exceed the estimate. He hasn't worked on the case, but has worked as a criminal defense attorney for nearly 50 years.
"They're still working on it. There may be some other experts coming. It'll-- it'll hit a million easily, I think," Costello said.
Logan County taxpayers are picking up the tab for both the prosecution and the defense. They sold bonds for a million dollars late last year to cover it, but Costello says the county may need to come up with more.
"If they get experts, that's a whole new ball game. And it requires some on one side, some on the other; and they don't come cheap," Costello said.
Tack on to that things like court reporter fees and jury fees. The first trial's been moved from Logan County to Peoria. That aspect alone could up the ante.
"We've tried to be diligent and make sure that the trial is handled professionally, that it's fair for all involved-- the defense as well as the prosecution," Schumacher said.
Doing so is not only their duty as members of county board, but it's also the law. A US Supreme Court decision finds that if the accused can't afford a defense, you the taxpayer must foot the bill for it. That's the case here with the Harris brothers. If they're found guilty, that same ruling also guarantees them an attorney for an appeal. You pick up the tab for that, too.
The latest information estimates the trial could last 4-to-7 weeks. Costello says he's been involved in two, separate murder trials that each lasted 12 weeks. Costello offers this last tidbit, saying there's a good chance the trial won't start in April as scheduled because there's too much evidence to process.