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Clallam County Dips Into Reserves For Death Penalty Case

Flickr Photo/J. Stephen Conn
Clallam County Courthouse

Clallam County has spent nearly a million dollars this year for the retrial of former death row inmate Darold Stenson in the most expensive trial in the county’s history.

As a result, county commissioners released on Monday nearly half a million dollars in emergency reserve funding for the Superior Court to pay for it.

Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said the county had a restricted reserve of $1 million in the event of an expensive murder trial. It was specifically set aside for situations like this. But Jones said it leaves the county vulnerable if there’s another big murder trial. “There’s the real problem. Reserves when you use them — that’s one-time money,” he said.

The county is preparing to seek some reimbursement from the state under the Extraordinary Criminal Justice Costs Act.  However Jones told commissioners that at most it would be around $75,000.

Jones is relieved that Clallam had the emergency reserves, which were socked away during the building boom around 2004. Many other counties he said, would have been in trouble. “There are so many counties that are running so thin and so threadbare that literally a trial like this would bankrupt that county — there is no question about. There are a lot of counties that are in that condition right now,” he said.

Stenson was sentenced to death after his first trial for aggravated murder in 1994. Judges stayed his execution in 2008 and his conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court last year.

Clallam County prosecutor Deb Kelly did not seek the death penalty for his retrial this year. Stenson was reconvicted of aggravated murder last month. He’s scheduled to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.