OGDEN — Attorneys for an Ogden man facing the potential of capital punishment want to instruct potential jurors on the financial costs associated with sentencing someone to death.
In a motion filed last month, attorneys for Miller Costello, 27, want to tell prospective jurors about the cost to taxpayers between sentencing someone to die versus giving them life in prison without parole. This information would be included during voir dire, or the jury selection process.
Costello and his wife, Brenda Emile, are each facing a capital murder charge in connection with the death of their 3-year-old daughter Angelina Costello. The child was found dead in an Ogden home in July 2017, and the case has been called a ”horrifying story” of parental abuse by a number of police and investigators. An autopsy revealed that the extremely malnourished child — who was 17 pounds at the time of her death — had several brain hemorrhages consistent with abuse and trauma, as well as a number of bruises and injuries throughout her body.
One of Costello’s attorneys, Randall Marshall, wrote in the motion that defense attorneys need to “be able to instruct the veniremen regarding the cost of imposing the death penalty versus the cost of imposing a life sentence.”
Marshall cited two studies conducted in Utah since 2012 that show the cost of sentencing someone to death and the subsequent appeals cost much more than sending someone to prison for the rest of their lives.
He cited a 2018 study from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which suggested that sentencing someone to life without parole would cost less than sentencing someone to death and the mountain of appeals that would follow.
Marshall wrote that the study showed that the average cost of a capital case was at least $237,000 more than a life sentence case.
He also cited a more thorough report released in 2012 prepared by a Utah legislative analyst. That study suggested that capital cases cost over $1.6 million more than a life sentence case.
Marshall argued that to ensure a fair and impartial jury, it is “essential that the veniremen be properly informed that the cost of execution is greater than the cost of a life sentence.”
In 2018 Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, proposed House Bill 70, a bill to redo the 2012 study. Handy claimed that the study was very limited and did not consider all possible costs associated with a death penalty case. However, the bill failed to pass and left the 2012 report the most thorough to date in Utah.
Handy’s 2018 bill was also followed by then-Rep. Gage Froerer, who proposed House Bill 379, legislation that would have done away with any future death penalty cases, but would have kept the possibility of current death row inmates to be executed.
However, that bill failed as well. Legislation to eliminate the death penalty in Utah has not been proposed since.
In November, Marshall also filed a motion to question and exclude jurors who believe in the theory of ”blood atonement.”
“There is a belief among some Christians, including some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the only way to receive true forgiveness from God for having committed murder is to shed one’s own blood,” Marshall wrote in the motion.
In January, Deputy Weber County Attorney Letitia Toombs argued that someone’s belief in blood atonement could not on its own serve as a basis to dismiss a potential juror, and she asked that the motion be denied. She did admit, though, that the asking the question as a basis for further questions was relevant.
A judge has yet to rule on either of Marshall’s motions.
Costello’s next court date is set for Feb. 28 in Ogden’s 2nd District Court. Both Costello and Emile will go to trial starting in August. The two are being held without bail at the Weber County Jail.