The nation's second-largest public defender's
office has run out of money to represent dozens of people facing the
death penalty and is asking judges to rule out the punishment or
appoint private attorneys, officials said Wednesday.
Cook County Public Defender Abishi C. Cunningham
said the county has about $100 left from a state fund that pays costs
in death penalty cases. It expects to receive about $2.25 million from
the state in September or October, but about 75 percent of that is owed
to expert witnesses for work they've already done, Cunningham said.
urge those interested in justice to recognize that if the policy of
this state is to have a death penalty, that policy must be accompanied
by an appropriate financial commitment to the defense of the accused,"
Cunningham said at a news conference.
Illinois remains under a
death penalty moratorium imposed in 2000 by then-Gov. George H. Ryan,
who cleared death row after 13 inmates were exonerated. But prosecutors
continue to seek the death penalty in the event that the moratorium is
Cunningham said his office planned to file motions in
about 60 cases, half of its capital caseload, arguing that the state's
failure to adequately fund capital defense hurts defendants' rights to
effective representation and a fair trial.
The office had already
asked a judge to bar the death penalty in the double-murder case of a
man accused of killing his girlfriend's young sons.
also ask the judges to assign private attorneys to cases if the death
penalty stands; Cunningham said a separate state fund for private
lawyers appointed to capital cases still has money available.
The Cook County state's attorney's office will fight the motions, spokeswoman Sally Daly said.
believe that these motions lack legal merit," Daly said. "Despite their
claims that the Capital Litigation Fund is depleted within their
office, the public defender has money in their general fund that could
be appropriated to fund the costs that they've identified in these
While individual attorneys have filed similar motions
across the country, the systemwide action in Cook County appears to be
the first of its kind, said Chris Adams, co-chair of the National
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Death Penalty Committee.
takes a lot of courage for lawyers to stand up and say, 'we're just not
getting the resources we need to get the job done,'" Adams said.
"[Defense attorneys] can't cut corners when someone's life is on the