County faces big bill with death penalty cases

MARION – It’s been almost a decade since a murder case with a death specification went before a jury in Marion County.

Four pending cases could send three men and a woman to death row, costing hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars.

Not since Barry Satta was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 7-year-old girl in 2001 has a Marion County jury considered a death sentence.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys reached a plea agreement that led to Juan Cruz being sentenced to life in prison for murdering deputy Brandy Winfield. Cruz had been indicted with a death specification.

Now Maurice Mason, 47, Lee Crager, 40, Marlin Stone, 22, and Vanessa Manley, 21, each could be placed on death row by a Marion County jury.

For Mason, only the death penalty phase of his trial remains. His conviction for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in 1993 stands.

A higher court overturned his death sentence because an inadequate life history was presented during the mitigation phase of the case, and it was sent back for resentencing, said one of his attorneys, Todd Anderson.

Anderson also serves as co-counsel on two of the other cases, Crager and Stone.

Crager’s aggravated murder conviction has been sent back for retrial. He was re-indicted on the murder charge, attempted rape and burglary, when he allegedly beat a 70-year-old woman to death in her home. His first indictment did not include a death specification. It was added as part of the re-indictment with other new charges.

Stone and Manley are accused of robbing and killing a 66-year-old man in his home.

The costs of prosecuting and defending a case involving a death specification can be measured in fees, hours of the court staff, judges, attorneys, investigators, jurors and other parties involved, paperwork filed, and jail and prison costs of housing defendants.

Costs calculated by the Marion County Clerk of Courts for Satta’s case totaled more than $84,000 in court-appointed attorney fees, almost $13,000 in court reporter fees and almost $7,000 in jury fees.

Mason’s criminal case, when costs were last calculated, has cost almost $50,000 at the county level. That does not include appeals and the possible second death penalty phase of the case.

The death sentence of Kevin Keith, 46, a Crawford County man convicted of murdering two women and a girl and wounding three other people in 1994, was commuted by Gov. Ted Strickland in September, two weeks before Keith was supposed to be executed.

The criminal prosecution alone cost $123,089.49, according to court records. Now the state will bear the cost of housing Keith for the rest of his life.

In Franklin County, which includes Columbus, no death sentence has been imposed since 2003, Anderson said, a glaring figure in light of the county’s population and murder figures. Only one case with a possible death sentence is pending there.

Other counties with large populations such as Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Summit, Mahoning and Stark, have higher instances of death specifications.

With the workload of four cases that could end with death sentences, not a week goes by that Marion prosecutors don’t spend time on at least one of the cases, said county prosecutor Brent Yager.

If he doesn’t work on Mason’s case, he can’t help but think about it.

“And we’re in the early stages of Manley and Stone. We’re still waiting on DNA results and forensic evidence,” he said. “The problem there is we can’t not charge people, knowing, believing they committed murders.”

So as evidence is processed, motions are filed and hearings are held, what will happen with the lives of Mason, Crager, Manley and Stone remains undetermined, and the family members of the defendants and victims await closure.

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