8/22/2014

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One murder, four separate trials an expensive possibility

One murder, four separate trials an expensive possibility

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- The costs to get justice in the beating death of a Yakima real estate agent are rising. All four suspects accused of killing Vern Holbrook want to be tried separately. As of now, there are two trials.

Yakima County says the average murder trial costs about $250,000. We already know this case will be at least double that. KIMA spoke with Vern Holbrook's family to see how they would like the case handled.

One murder, and potentially four different trials. When Vern Holbrook died months after he was beaten, the four suspects accused of the attack saw their charges upped to murder.

Defense attorneys want their clients to all be tried separately.

"It gets very expensive," Court Administrator Harold Delia said. 

And that would be done on the taxpayer's dime. A judge already ruled at least one person will be tried separately. Holbrook's family would like to see the final three tried at the same time.

"Anything the prosecution can do to assist bringing the guilty persons to justice is fully supported by our family," Holbrook's son Andrew Rockenfield said in an audio statement. "A joint trial is warranted in this case for many reasons. Four separate trials with the same evidence would be a serious waste of taxpayer resources."

KIMA looked into how much four different murder trials will cost for one murder.

"It means four separate jury trials, which means four separate jury panels," Delia said.

The jury selection process starts with about 120 people. Each of these potential jurors is given about $10 a day. So, that means just for the first day of jury selection, it adds up to $1,200. Because Adrianna Mendez's case was severed on Wednesday, that's a second trial, a second jury pool, and another $1,200. If the other 3 codefendants are separated, that's four trials and four different juries starting at $1,200 a day just for the first day of jury selection.

"That's not counting the expert witnesses, judge's time, prosecutors, public defense," Delia said. "So it's a fairly expensive proposition."

An average cost for a murder trial is about a $250,000. Trying these four separately could cost taxpayers $1 million. The court says the money doesn't matter when it comes to giving everyone their day in court.

"That doesn't really weigh into the equation of the judge separating or not," Delia said. "We have to do what's right."

Only 3 percent of cases actually make it to trial in Yakima County. Most of the rest plead out to a lesser charge.

The judge will decide whether to separate all the defendants in a hearing in mid-March.

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