Wednesday, January 18, 2012

County Has No Public Defenders for Capital Cases

(AP) - Indiana's second most populous county has no certified public defenders to handle capital cases as the state wrestles with prosecuting one of its most notorious slaying cases in recent years. 

Such certification allows counties to be reimbursed by the state for defense costs incurred during capital cases, The Journal Gazette reported Sunday ( ). However, with prosecutors filing fewer death penalty cases, defense attorneys are finding other ways to meet continuing legal education requirements, said Paula Sites, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council. 

Across Indiana, only three capital cases were filed last year, down from 11 in 2000, according to the council. 

"We used to provide death penalty training every year, but we have cut back to every other year," Sites said. "It just doesn't make sense, not just for lawyers to take it every year, but for us to provide it every year." 

In a case that has gripped Fort Wayne and Allen County since before Christmas, Michael Plumadore, 39, of Fort Wayne, has admitted to killing and dismembering Aliahna Maroney-Lemmon, a 9-year-old neighbor he was babysitting. Not guilty pleas to charges of murder, abuse of a corpse and removing a dead body from the scene have been entered for Plumadore. 

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards hasn't determined whether she will seek the death penalty in the case. 

Plumadore's appointed attorneys, Anthony Churchward and Mark Thoma of Fort Wayne, both have handled capital cases before as public defense attorneys but neither is currently certified by the state. 

Allen County Chief Public Defender Randall Hammond said Plumadore will have certified public defenders available if Richards decided to pursue the death penalty. 

After Churchward and Thoma were appointed to the case, the Allen County Public Defender's office inquired about upcoming training seminars that would allow the two to meet the 12-hour training requirement and get certification for capital cases, the newspaper reported. While no such training is scheduled in Indiana, classes are available soon in other states that would qualify, Sites said. 

While the council provides training sporadically, the certification comes from the Indiana Public Defender Commission, which was established in 1989 by the Legislature, primarily to recommend standards for indigent defense in capital cases. Counties that meet those standards can apply to the commission for reimbursement from the public defense fund in capital cases. Since 1997, that reimbursement can be up to 40 percent of a county's cost for a death penalty case. 

Deborah Neal, staff counsel at the Public Defender Commission, said the public defense of a capital case can cost a county between $200,000 and $800,000. That does not include other costs for prosecutors, a jury and other court expenses. 

To be certified by the commission in capital cases, a lead attorney must have at least five years of criminal trial experience, needs to have handled multiple felony cases and should have worked on at least one case -- as either lead or co-counsel -- in which the death penalty was sought, Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure state. 

To serve as co-counsel, an attorney must have at least three years of criminal trial experience and have experience as co-counsel or lead counsel in at least three felony trials. 

Attorneys must have taken, within the two previous years, a 12-hour course provided by the Indiana Public Defender Council. Other states and organizations also have the course. 


Information from: The Journal Gazette, 

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