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Final trial cost: $210K

Andy Ouriel • Feb 19, 2014 at 4:10 PM

The process ending with a jury unanimously convicting Curtis Clinton of killing three people cost Erie County taxpayers a lot less than what officials predicted.

Still, despite coming in under budget, the total fallout stemming from Clinton’s death penalty case totaled about $210,000, according to court data the Register obtained through a public records request.

County taxpayers covered several types of costs for this trial.

The expenses ranged from public funds fronted for Clinton’s two attorneys; hotel rooms and meals for jurors; and a person to chronicle all the gruesome and intense details during the case.    

In early November, a 12-person jury found Clinton guilty of raping a then-17-year-old girl; raping and killing 3-year old Celina Jackson; killing Celina’s mother, Heather Jackson; and killing Heather’s son, Wayne Jackson Jr., 20 months.

The jury convicted Clinton on multiple counts of aggravated murder and rape; aggravated burglary and on all accompanying specifications.

Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Tygh Tone then sentenced Clinton to three death sentences — one apiece for Celina, Heather and Wayne Jr. — and one life sentence for raping the then-17-year-old girl. Clinton also faces additional time for other crimes he committed.

Speedy trial

An average Ohio-based death penalty case playing out in full without a plea deal occurring typically costs $300,000.

Death penalty cases are expensive because state law requires testimony from expert witnesses; specialized employees; and mental health and competency evaluations onto the accused, among other costly factors.

But in Clinton’s case, which didn’t involve a plea deal, costs came in under budget for two main reasons:

•Tone expedited the process. The trial’s first phase — to determine whether Clinton was innocent or guilty — only took six days, which included jury selection.

Jury selection occurred Oct. 28, the trial then spanned four days and jurors reached a verdict on Nov. 4.

The trial’s second phase — to figure out Clinton’s sentence — only took one day. On Nov. 12, jurors recommended the death penalty. Two days later, Tone handed down life and deathsentences to Clinton.

A speedy trial kept juror costs, such as food and lodging, to a minimum.

“The trial was quick, which was my intention,” Tone said. “You don’t want jurors, especially with this case, sitting around with delays. But there weren’t any delays because nobody made that happen. I was happy with the result and that the case progressed pretty quickly on the docket”

•Clinton waived the right for his lawyers to present evidence in hopes he’d avoid a death sentence.

Even though they could, on-call experts never entered Tone’s court to present any of the defendant’s claims as to why Clinton shouldn’t be put to death.

“They would look for anything that would mitigate the recommendation to impose the death penalty,” Tone said. “Theycould’ve determined if he had a bad home life, was beaten as a child, was not a good student or anything else” Tone said.

Since their in-court services weren’t required, taxpayers avoided paying these costs.

But the experts still did their homework. They collected numerous pieces of data cluing them in on Clinton’s past, which included gaining access to his school, court and prison records.

Clinton had been released from prison just seven months before he killed the Jackson family. Clinton served 13 years for killing 18-year-old Misty Keckler, a Fostoria woman he strangled to death in 1997.

These records, however, were sealed. An appeals court could review these records when considering if Clinton’s defense counsel thoroughly reviewed his past.

When accounting for appeals, one death penalty case in Ohio could cost up to $1 million. An appeal, at both the state and federal levels, could take several years.

More costs coming?

If one positive aspect resulted from this tragedy, it’s the trial cost coming in at $90,000 under budget.

But officials aren’t feeling too optimistic with two more death penalty cases awaiting trial.

“Unfortunately, we have to continue to plan for these murder trials,” Erie County commissioner Pat Shenigo said. “Even though the Clinton case turned out less, that’s not to say that will be the case in the future”

Erie County’s $26 million everyday operating budget — paying for dozen of services such as sheriff, maintenance and court operations — subsidizes costs for murder trials.

The two outstanding death penalty cases could collectively cost local taxpayers an additional $600,000, or $300,000 each, if they play out in full.

They are:

•Michael Milner, who allegedly killed his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son, Owen Barker, in July 2012 at a Fulton Street home in Sandusky.

•Denzel Castile, accused of fatally stabbing his 11-week-old cousin, Athena Castile, in May 2013 at his grandparents’ Dewey Street home.

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