- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - The nation’s second-largest public defender’s office this week asked a judge to exclude the death penalty in a double murder case because it doesn’t have the cash to represent the accused.

Defendant Brian Gilbert cannot get a fair trial because the Cook County public defender’s office has depleted its portion of a state fund that pays for costs in death penalty cases, Assistant Public Defender Julie Harmon said Friday.

Wednesday’s motion was the first in what Harmon said could become a series of motions to block death penalty cases for lack of resources.

The public defender’s office received $1.75 million from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund for the fiscal year. The general assembly approved an increase to $2.25 million last year, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

About 60 percent of the fund money was used to pay back debt, and next year that could grow to 75 percent, Harmon said. Meanwhile, the office’s number of death penalty cases has held steady, at around the current level of 120 cases, she said.

“Each year the percentage we use to pay old bills has been growing,” Harmon said. “We can’t ever get caught up _ we’re always working from a deficit.”

The public defender requested a $400,000 supplemental grant a month ago in a letter to the Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who administers the fund, Harmon said.

Giannoulias spokeswoman Kati Phillips said the office responded this week, saying the public defender has to appeal directly to state lawmakers for an increase.

No other Illinois public defender has used up all of its fund money, Phillips said.

Meanwhile, interpreters, psychologists, DNA specialists and others required as experts in many death penalty cases wait up to seven months to get paid by the office, and they’re beginning to get fed up, Harmon said. Many have called with threats to stop work.

“All the costs are going up,” Harmon said. “I’m concerned about it getting worse in the future.”

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office plans to challenge the public defender’s filing in Gilbert’s case, said spokeswoman Sally Daly. Gilbert is charged with fatally stabbing his girlfriend’s 12-year-old and 14-year-old sons.

Former Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions in 2000 after 13 people were exonerated from death row. The trust fund was created in response, and the moratorium is still in effect.

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