OGDEN -- Randy Richards describes his work as anti-homicide in bucking capital punishment.
"I see it as preventing the state from doing that which it condemns," he said.
"If murder's wrong, murder's wrong, even if it's a judge or jury doing it. By having the death penalty, we're letting our baser emotions rule our lives."
State-sanctioned execution, however sanitized as the will of the people, as still homicide, he said.
Richards is the only defense attorney in the state handling two death penalty defenses, said Mark Field, who keeps track of such things as the capital attorney for the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
Field follows the 19 death penalty cases currently heading for trial in Utah and serves as a legal resource for the judges assigned to capital cases.
Richards heads the court-appointed defense for Riqo Perea and Jacob Ethridge in two Ogden double-homicides.
It was three capital- possible cases until Glenn Howard Griffin's ended late in 2008 with a trial three years in the making in Brigham City.
Richards took the lead with Griffin's public defenders in early 2007. Griffin was convicted in November 2008 and sentenced to life without parole.
At the time, Richards was already lead counsel for Perea, who was arrested in August 2007.
He became peripherally involved with Ethridge's defense upon Ethridge's arrest in July 2008. Richards took the lead upon the conclusion of the Griffin case.
The defense filed about 50 motions in the Griffin case, a half-dozen unsuccessfully calling the death penalty unconstitutional.
Richards has begun the same process with Perea and Ethridge.
"I can see both sides of it, from the standpoint of the victims' families," he said.
"I understand the rage, or the desire for revenge. Maybe 'recognize' is a better term.
"But I also have a belief that we as a society, we need to take a higher road. Do we drop down to a lower common denominator when we decide that we, too, want to take life?
"Murder is a horrible crime. There's no excuse for it. But when it's legal for the government to do it, we step into the same shoes, doing that which we condemn. ... That, in a way, is hypocritical."
The majority of defense attorneys feel similarly about capital punishment, he said, because most are liberal Democrats.
But economics speaks against it as well, he said.
"By pure economics alone, we should get rid of it. Everyone admits now it's cheaper not to have the death penalty."
The Griffin case offers an extreme example of the costs of seeking to execute, a choice ultimately rejected by a jury.
Richards and co-counsel were paid $150,000 over a three-year period out of a statewide fund Box Elder County pays into.
Richards said that equates to $28 an hour.
The prosecutors over the same time period were paid well more than $1 million out of the county's general fund, with the case becoming a line item in the county budget.
The aforementioned sums are all pre-trial and trial costs, not counting an appeal now under way that is handled by lawyers downstate who are paid out of another statewide fund.
And Richards said he doubts the deterrent value of executions.
"The research I've seen says there is no effect. I haven't seen any that says there is."
Most murders are heat-of-the-moment events, he said, with little thought given to consequences.
"Life without parole would be just as good a deterrent. They live in 23-hour lockdown. They exercise alone. Their food is slid on a tray through a slot in a door. They don't access any of the prison programs, since they're never getting out," Richards said.
"It's a horrible existence."
But he's not optimistic about the U.S. Supreme Court shutting down the death penalty anytime soon, as it did for five years in the 1970s.
The death penalty's uneven application makes it unconstitutional, Richards believes, in that it is practiced in some states and not in others.
Also a problem is how a handful of states execute so often -- Texas and Oklahoma execute 25 to 50 times a year -- while most states go years without an execution.
Among other testaments against the death penalty, Richards said, is the well-established fact that killing a white person is far more likely to bring execution than killing a minority.
But the current U.S. Supreme Court has heard all those issues argued, some several times, he said, and still upheld capital punishment.
The conservative bent of the high court, with the most recent appointees of the Bush administration and few justices near retirement age, may not change for another 10 years or more, Richards said.
At age 53, he's not confident of seeing a change in the course of his career.
"It's discouraging, certainly, but it could happen," he said.
Meanwhile, he'll keep filing motions to harass and harangue the imposition of the death penalty.
As far as filing another 50 motions apiece in his two capital cases, Richards said, "I assume we'll get pretty close."