Run-up to date with executioner runs up tab, too

The business of executing an inmate includes wages and overtime, travel expenses for officials and witnesses and other items.

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WALLA WALLA -- Eight hours before Cal Coburn Brown was scheduled to die, the bill for his execution was more than $75,000 and climbing.

It was a warm late afternoon March 12, a Thursday, and preparations were well under way at the Washington State Penitentiary. Checkpoints were in place at parking lot entrances to search arriving vehicles, areas for pro and anti-death penalty protestors had been readied and remote broadcast trucks were setting up.

Then word came down that the state Supreme Court had granted Brown a stay, bringing things to a screeching halt.

The bulk of the thousands of dollars spent up to that point consisted of the wages and overtime for the Department of Corrections personnel and officers, travel expenses for DOC officials and more than $13,000 for "goods and services," which included extra fencing for protestor areas, portable toilets, expenses for bringing the victim's family to Washington state to witness the execution and other items, said Maria Peterson, DOC spokeswoman.

Peterson said the only way the final bill could be calculated would be if the execution had actually gone off.

For instance some expenses, such as travel expenses for herself and other DOC officials, had already been included in the money spent up to the point the execution was called off while other expenses, especially for wages and overtime, couldn't be calculated because of people going off the clock or back on the clock during the countdown. Any complications in the process would also have added significantly to the final bill.

Fortunately for the taxpayers, city, county and state police agencies also involved didn't have to strain their budgets to help with security for the event.

The Washington State Patrol had 20 officers to help secure the parking lot and perimeter, but the agency was able to adjust schedules to avoid putting on extra officers or paying overtime, said Lt. Jay Cabezuela. The Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office was able to do the same thing, said Capt. Bill White. (Although White and Sheriff Mike Humphreys were also on duty at the command center, as salaried employees they received no extra pay.)

Walla Walla city police also avoided any significant overtime, said Capt. Gary Bainter. "We shifted personnel over to the site, but without any expenditures," he said.

Another aborted execution set to take place about four months earlier also ran up a hefty tab, but not as much as the one for Brown.

Preparations for the execution of convicted killer Darold Stenson totaled about $25,500 before the state Supreme Court on Dec. 1 refused to lift a stay of execution issued by a Clallam County Superior Court judge. At that time, Stenson had been scheduled to die just after midnight on the morning of Dec. 3.

Together, the two called-off executions ran up a total of more than $101,000 in costs to the state Department of Corrections, according to figures provided by the Department of Corrections.

But the expenses would not have stopped there.

Had the executions been carried out, the bodies would have been turned over to Frank Brown, the Walla Walla County Coroner, who said he would then order an autopsy to determine if the death were due to the execution procedure or a preexisting medical condition.

The procedure costs between $850 to $1,200 plus $250 to transport the body, Brown said. This would be paid by the county and not by the state.

The final step would be cremation of the remains, which would happen if no one from the family or other responsible person claims the body. That would cost $350, which is the maximum the county pays for such a service.

The cremated remains are kept at the coroner's office until a family member comes to claim the remains, Brown said. "Sometimes that never happens, and (then) they stay on the shelf forever."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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