Days after voicing interest in exiting the Idaho Capital Crimes Defense Fund to protest the state’s death penalty, the Blaine County commissioners have reconsidered.
Facing the full scope of costs wrapped up in the withdrawal, Commissioners Angenie McCleary, Jacob Greenberg and Larry Schoen each individually walked back their support of the move.
“From my perspective, it’s much more complicated and involved to pull out of the fund than we thought,” McCleary said Thursday morning. “My underlying thoughts haven’t changed. But at this point, there would likely be too many unintended consequences and negative implications involved with not participating.”
In a meeting Tuesday, Schoen had surprised his fellow commissioners by raising the idea of leaving the fund, which provides financial support to defray costs of lengthy, expensive trials in which the death penalty is sought.
But per its founding statute, buying into the Capital Crimes Defense Fund also opens up access to the State Appellate Public Defender’s Office, which represents indigent defendants through post-conviction appeals, covering all costs past the first $10,000. It’s a service that counties in the state depend on—and a major reason why all 44 participate in the fund.
“I admit that I misinterpreted the statute to mean that we would only lose support in capital cases,” Schoen told the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday night. “I did not interpret it to mean that we’d lose access to the State Appellate Public Defender’s Office altogether.
“Now, I understand the current interpretation. And, I understand the consequences this decision would have on public defenders in Blaine County.”
Because it participates in the state program, Blaine County doesn’t have an appellate defense program of its own. Last year, the county was not asked to pay into the fund, though depending on the year, it receives between $22,000 and $25,000 worth of work from state lawyers, according to State Appellate Public Defender Eric Fredericksen.
County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, who has never sought the death penalty, pushed beyond costs, accusing the board in a letter of “unlawfully attempting to usurp [his] prosecutorial discretion.”
Greenberg met with Thomas on Thursday morning to apologize for his “hasty” decision earlier in the week, and for not including Thomas in the meeting.
After speaking to Fredericksen on Wednesday afternoon, Schoen expressed a similar sentiment.
“My recommendation is going to be to continue participation in the Capital Crimes Defense Fund, though I hope we can pursue a legislative solution to decouple that from access to the state’s public defenders,” he said.