Taxpayers to cover defense costs of all 2013 homicide suspects

Taxpayers to cover defense costs of all 2013 homicide suspects »Play Video
BENTON COUNTY, Wash. - It was a terrible statistic for our Tri-Cities community. There were more homicides in Benton County in 2013 than at any other time in a decade.

Now the burden to put all those people on trial is falling to you, the taxpayers.

The community was rocked when Benton County saw six murders last year, three in Richland alone.

Neighbor Heather Rex said, "Really does shock me because this has always been such a beautiful place to live I never realized it was like other places."

Every one of these cases is being handled by a public defender, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the costs.

"We want our tax money spent the best way possible," said Heather.

The Office of Public Defense is tasked with managing the budget and didn't predict this spike in violent crime.

Which means there's not even a guesstimate for what this might cost.

Indigent defense coordinator, Eric Hsu, said, "I couldn't even put a ballpark figure on that."

All he can do is try to mitigate the expense. It's why one defense attorney is now handling homicides instead of two per case.

That's saved $40,000 in just the past few months.

Eight suspects are slated for trial this year for charges ranging from manslaughter to premeditated murder.

Another money saver is to train public defenders instead of contracting it out on issues like forensics and pathology.

"It's not something that you practice on clients, obviously so we're providing an opportunity where they can really increase their skills," he said.

This could reduce liability on the office and the need for appeals.

Heather has other ideas for her tax dollars.

She said, "I would definitely feel better knowing that my tax money was going to schools or to roads, or heck, to stopping murders in the future."

Most of the cases are now being handled by an "in house" attorney instead of contract lawyers for even more savings.