Last Modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 7:06 PM
Attorneys involved in the recent three-week murder trial of Robyn Little Davis and Carol Noland Saltzman said the case’s complexity contributed to its hefty price tag.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys estimate that about $100,000 was spent on the case, and that’s just the calculable expenses.
Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier said prosecutors had to build the case strictly on circumstantial evidence, a time-consuming feat.
“You had to stack all those little items, those circumstances, on top of each other on one side of the scale of justice to demonstrate that they were, in fact, guilty and exclude any other reasonable hypothesis of innocence,” DeRosier said. “We were able to do that by getting more technical with the telephone records for instance, which demonstrated that the women were in a place they said they weren’t.”
DeRosier said “leaving no stone unturned” was of the utmost importance in this case, and that comes with a price.
Three attorneys and three investigators spent about 2,000 man hours working the case, which cost nearly $65,000. Other than that major expense, about $10,000 went to witness expenses, including expert witnesses and family members who traveled into Lake Charles for the trial.
DeRosier said the calculable $75,000 cost is somewhat misleading, since it is difficult to asses the cost of occupying one division of court for the three weeks of trial.
“It’s difficult to develop a dollar-and-cent figure relative to the cost of the criminal justice system being involved in this one case for three weeks, pretty much to the exclusion of other things. There are many other cases that were simply on the back burner until this case was over in that division,” he said.
DeRosier estimated that the actual cost could be two or three times the calculable figure.
Davis’ defense attorney Glen Vamvoras agreed that the actual cost is difficult to calculate.
Vamvoras said that he and his law partners initially signed on the case to be a liaison between the Davis, Saltzman and the police. Once the women were arrested and indicted, they decided to donate their time to try the case.
“In this particular case, I felt like I couldn’t abandon the girls in midstream, so I stayed with them,” Vamvoras said.
He estimates that the firm paid about $35,000 out of pocket, excluding the hours worked on the case.
More than half of that cost went to retaining an expert witnesses, John Minor, to refute the testimony of the state’s cell-site analysis expert, FBI Special Agent William Shute, Vamvoras said.
Other costs incidental to trial proceedings included obtaining transcripts and hiring a process server to serve subpoenas.
The amount difficult to calculate is the money lost from not being able to accept new cases for nearly six months.
“It was impossible for me to see people and interview new clients. We’re talking six months of my practice was pretty much devoted to this case without taking on any new stuff for those months. The hidden costs are extravagant, but the hard costs are what they are,” he said.
Vamvoras said he plans to petition the Louisiana Public Defender Board to attempt to be reimbursed for expenses.
“The intent of the law is because you are indigent doesn’t mean you should have a lesser defense just because you can’t afford to pay it,” he said.
As Davis’ and Saltzman’s sentencing date looms, Vamvoras said he will stay on to represent them during appeals, unless at some point they can be better represented by a state agency.
Judge David Ritchie is expected to sentence Davis and Saltzman on June 22. They were convicted on May 10 of second-degree murder for the 2009 shooting death of Davis’ husband, Brian. The defendants face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.