Arkansas' chief public defender wants death penalty deadline, says 120 days enough to decide


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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The executive director of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission is proposing legislation to require prosecutors to decide whether to waive the death penalty in capital murder cases within 120 days of a person's arrest.

Greg Parrish said a bill requiring prosecutors to make a decision early in a murder case's timeline would save the office "a lot of money."

Parrish said his office, in some cases, has been forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars on experts before the prosecutor decides to waive the death penalty. He says prosecutors sometimes make the decision as late as a month before a trial is set to begin or even during jury selection.

"As long as the death penalty is in play, we have to go out and hire experts ... and you're talking $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 if you don't know," Parrish said.

The commission asked Parrish to research whether any other states have similar measures and to report back to it, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1kUNn56 ).

Parrish said he had not yet heard negative feedback on the proposal. But Bob McMahan, head of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said some members may oppose the measure.

Parrish said his office's attorneys are required by law to thoroughly investigate any mitigating circumstances in death penalty cases. That usually requires investigating the defendant's juvenile criminal history and the mental health history of the person's family, he said.

The defense attorney's research requires weighing whether to hire a variety of different experts, which can sometimes cost even more than the figure mentioned at the commission meeting, Parrish said.

If an attorney is later found to have not fulfilled his duty to investigate those mitigating factors, the verdict can be overturned and a new trial ordered, he said.

Parrish said he has informed the Prosecuting Attorneys Association about the proposal but has not heard back from it. He said he also told several prosecutors and has not received any negative feedback.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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