published Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Anthony trial tab nears half-million dollars

New York Times News Service
Aisha Howard, 10, left, Jordan Howard, 8, center, and and their mother Susan Hoch, right, all of Clearwater, Fla., protest the release of Casey Anthony outside the Booking and Release Center of the Orange County Jail in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, July 16, 2011.
Aisha Howard, 10, left, Jordan Howard, 8, center, and and their mother Susan Hoch, right, all of Clearwater, Fla., protest the release of Casey Anthony outside the Booking and Release Center of the Orange County Jail in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, July 16, 2011.
AP Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack

After nearly three years in jail, Casey Anthony is set to go free today. A Pinellas County jury decided two weeks ago that the Orlando mother is not guilty of the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

If the public was furious over that, wait until it sees what it cost local taxpayers to put her on trial for her daughter’s murder.

The figure is at least $400,000 and climbing and that’s above what it usually costs to put on a death penalty case

Death penalty cases like this one can end up costing millions. But it’s hard to calculate those costs because taxpayers already pay for a criminal justice system regardless of who is on trial. The cost of each case can’t be reduced to a line on a spreadsheet.

But this was no ordinary trial, and it involved extra costs to the taxpayers that can be calculated, albeit very roughly.

Some agencies tracked their costs during the trial. Others are still figuring it out. For example, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which bore the brunt of courthouse security, hasn’t released a figure yet.

But it’s not just Orange County that’s getting the bill. The legal system is funded statewide. So Florida’s taxpayers are also on the hook for bills like these:

• It cost more than $200,000 to select, house, feed, entertain and guard the 17 Pinellas jurors who spent six weeks in Orlando for the duration of the trial.

Back in May, chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. came to Pinellas in the hopes that it would be easier to pick an impartial jury here, away from the Orlando media.

But taxpayers had to pay to sequester the jurors over there, guard them 24/7 during the trial, put them up in a hotel for six weeks and feed them.

• The bill to Florida’s taxpayers from Casey’s defense team: $138,050 in expenses. The defense said it spent that money on everything from expert witnesses to private detectives to transcribing depositions.

But, so far, the state has paid only $100,529. The Justice Administrative Commission, which is paying the bill, has rejected $11,708 in costs. It is still considering whether to pay for the remaining $25,813.

The taxpayers are paying for that because a court declared Anthony indigent in March 2010, meaning she couldn’t afford to pay for her own defense. That allowed her to bill the state for costs associated with her defense. That’s not unusual in death penalty cases.

But that’s hardly the total cost of her defense. Before a judge declared her indigent, first he wanted to know how the family had already spent nearly $300,000 on legal bills by early 2010. It was revealed in court that ABC News paid $200,000 for the rights to family photos and videos of the 2-year-old victim.

The money was gone by 2010. Her attorneys said then they were working pro bono, for free. But the trial made them celebrities. Now they could cash in.

• The prosecution also had expenses: $91,000. That’s according to Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Danielle Tavernier. Some bills are still coming in, she said.

She said that’s the office’s latest tally of such costs as expert witnesses and travel expenses that were incurred by the prosecution. Tavernier.

But that sum doesn’t include the salaries of the team of veteran prosecutors who put on the case.

• Speculation is rampant that Anthony is poised to cash in once she’s released from jail. Could the taxpayers get some of their money back from her?

They’ll have to get in line first. Many are already lining up to take a chunk of any payday.

The IRS wants $68,500 from Anthony for unpaid federal taxes on ABC News’ money.

She’s also being sued for defamation by Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez. She shares the same name of the babysitter that Anthony once claimed stole her child back in 2008 a claim authorities later said was false.

Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery also filed suit against Anthony for $100,000. The firm searched for the missing girl in 2008.

• The only thing Anthony actually owes the court system is $4,000. The jury convicted her of four counts of lying to law enforcement during the search for her daughter. She was fined $1,000 for each charge.

If prosecutors get their way, Anthony will pay much more than that for the investigation and prosecution of her case. They filed a motion seeking to impose “special costs” on Anthony.

But on Friday her lawyers filed notice that they’re going to appeal her conviction.

They also filed a motion asking the court to declare her indigent for that appeal. That means the taxpayers could pick up the tab for that, too.

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