Accused Killer Won't Face Death Penalty Because County Can't Afford Defense

By STEPHANIE V. SIEK, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A man charged with killing a Kenyon College student will not face a possible death sentence because a judge ruled that the county doesn't have the extra money to defend him in a capital murder case.

"The court finds that the potential impact of financial considerations could compromise the defendant's due process rights in a capital murder trial. The court finds that this risk is unacceptable in this case," Judge Jeffrey L. Simmons wrote in his ruling.

The attorney general's office plans to file an appeal with Vinton County Judge Jeffrey Simmons and with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. They said that Simmons did not have the authority to issue the decision and that money should not have been a consideration.

Greg Meyers, the chief counsel for the death penalty division of the state public defender's office, said that funding for adequate defense representation is an important consideration.

"Anybody at the death penalty end of the criminal justice system knows that money is a variable in death penalty calculus," said Meyers. "Nationally and in Ohio, it is not unusual for the financial concern to be a factor in whether the prosecutor decides to go for the death penalty or settle for a life sentence."

A death penalty trial for Gregory McKnight, who is charged with aggravated murder and kidnapping in the death of Emily Murray, would deplete Vinton County's $2.7 million general fund budget.

"Our County is really tight right now," Vinton County Commissioner Todd Gibson told the Columbus Dispatch on Friday. "I wouldn't say we could have found the money, but I think we would have at least tried."

However, Gibson said he "understood the judge's ruling and would have to agree with him."

A spokesman for Attorney General Betty Montgomery said prosecutors in about a third of Ohio's 88 counties receive assistance from their office in death penalty cases, including Vinton County.

Pfeifer said that practice may relieve the financial burden on the prosecutor, but that the same relief is not available for the defense.

"This judge may have called to everyone's attention a particular defect in the system," he said.

The Hocking County Prosecutor's office said that they had estimated a possible cost of $200,000 to $600,000 for a death penalty case.

"For the county budget, it would crimp it considerably. Larger counties can absorb that, but you're talking about a fifth of our general budget," prosecutor Larry Beal said.

Lawyers for McKnight told the Columbus Dispatch on Friday that mounting an adequate defense would cost more than $75,000. The cost includes legal fees, investigators, and travel to New York to interview McKnight's relatives.

Authorities found Murray's body a month after she was reported missing, rolled up in a carpet in McKnight's trailer.

The remains of Greg L. Julious of Chillicothe were found shortly afterward and McKnight was charged with a second count of murder.

It is Murray's case that carried the possibility of the death penalty.

The case is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 23.

Emily's father, Thomas Murray, said he was "shaken" by the ruling, but did not wish to comment.

"My wife and I believe that at this point to interject would do more harm than good," Murray said from his job in Garrison, New York. "We think about it every day."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)