OGDEN — Weber County commissioners have agreed to continue covering the cost of public defenders for two Ogden parents charged with murdering their toddler in a potential death penalty case.
The county's three-member commission unanimously approved new contracts for the attorneys at its Tuesday meeting, but not without some reluctance.
"This is frustrating," said Commissioner Jim Harvey. "People in the community make horrible decisions each county taxpayer, their property tax, has to pay for, because of state code. That bothers me."
A judge early in the case decided Brenda Emile, 23, and Miller Costello, 26, could not afford to hire lawyers and appointed them public defenders. State law requires the county to foot the bill.
But Weber's existing contracts with defense attorneys do not cover death penalty cases, because of the vast amounts of time and work they can take, so a new deal was needed, deputy Weber County attorney Bryan Baron told the board.
The contracts provided by the county show a lead attorney for each parent will receive $170 per hour, and a second attorney will make $140 an hour. Attorney fees for each defendant are capped at $100,000, or $70,000 if prosecutors decide before a trial to no longer pursue a death penalty.
Baron said the total cost of the case is a "shot in the dark." But he reviewed the cost of defense in nine other capital cases in Utah and found they cost an average of $220,000 apiece, he said.
Weber County officials previously decided not to contribute to a statewide defense fund that helps local government covers such costs because of the price tag, Baron said Tuesday, but he didn't know the exact fee.
The new contracts will help inform the commission's decision when it next considers whether to buy into a state indigent defense fund, but no immediate decision has been made, Harvey said Wednesday.
Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty if the couple accused of beating, burning and not feeding their daughter Angelina is convicted of a charge of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony. The pair has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court in Ogden Aug. 13