INVESTIGATION | As homicide rate continues to rise, so does the price to taxpayers
As the number of murders in Louisville continues to rise, so does the price associated with solving and adjudicating those cases.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — As the number of murders in Louisville continues to rise, so does the price associated with solving and adjudicating those cases.
In 2016, Jefferson County saw a record number of homicide cases with 123. All but five of those were investigated by Louisville Metro Police.
Over the past two months, WDRB News has researched and tracked how much money an average homicide in Louisville costs in taxpayer money. That research began with when LMPD homicide detectives are first dispatched to a homicide scene.
“There's a list of 16 names,” said Lt. Emily McKinley, the head of LMPD’s Homicide Unit. “Whoever is at the top of the list is lead (detective) for the next homicide, no matter when it happens.”
On average, McKinley estimates that the lead detective spends 15 hours in the first day on that murder.
“Most of the time, they're not going to go home that night,” McKinley said. “They're going to keep working that case. They'll follow every single lead until there is nothing to do at that time.”
She added that homicides that occur during the night and those that occur during the day can differ vastly.
“If it happens during the day, its going to be straight time," McKinley said. "If it happens at night, it's pretty much all overtime."
WDRB News found the vast majority of the cost associated with investigating a murder by police comes from salary and overtime accrued by detectives. Following the initial first 48 hours of a police murder investigation, things generally slow down. From that point forward and until an arrest can be made, detectives typically spend 2-3 hours each week on every case still unsolved.
“You're not going to solve every single one, unfortunately, but we try our best to do that," McKinley said. "And it takes a lot of work to do that."
The actual cost of an investigation from that point can vary greatly based upon evidence collected and resources used at the scene of the crime. WDRB News based its calculations upon 5-6 DNA samples collected, ballistics testing for a gun used as well as salary and overtime. With those factors, a police murder investigation could cost around $48,233.
After an arrest is made, LMPD hands the case off to the court system, which incurs additional cost.
A study completed in 2009 by professors at Iowa State University estimated that adjudicating a murder case in court costs around $72,000, depending on a variety of factors. Similarly to a police investigation, the greatest cost incurred to the public is salary and overtime associated with judges, bailiffs, deputies, prosecutors, public defenders and others.
“When you're in the trial, it consumes your life,” criminal defense attorney Steve Romines said. “Trial preparation is about four hours for every hour in court. So if you've got a two-day trial with six hours of testimony, you're looking at a full work week for every day of that trial.”
Prosecutors for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office work on a fixed salary but work overtime hours that are not reimbursed, according to spokesman Jeff Cooke.
Many times, however, suspects charged with murder never face trial and instead take plea deals for lesser charges to avoid additional jail time.
For those that do go to trial and are charged with murder and convicted, Kentucky has three possible sentences: life with the possibility of parole after 20 years, life without the possibility of parole or the death sentence. Since 2008, juries in Kentucky have sentenced only four people to death.
The most significant cost comes if and when a suspect heads to prison.
Based upon statistics obtained by WDRB fNews rom the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the average cost to incarcerate an inmate at a state institution for one year is $24,390.98. If a convicted murderer were to receive the least of the three sentences and receive parole immediately after spending 20 years in prison, it would cost the state $487,819.60.
Adding together the costs of investigation, adjudication and incarceration, one average murder can cost the state $608,700.
However, those directly involved in the process say the bill matters little to them to find justice for a life taken away.
“As human beings, there's no more honorable thing that we can do than try to figure out what happened in the last few minutes of a person's life," McKinley said. "And if it costs us a few dollars, then so be it."
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