S. BRADY CALHOUN / News Herald Writer
PANAMA CITY — Next week, the attorneys in the Dennis Creamer case will begin arguing about whether he should get the death penalty.
Circuit Judge Dedee Costello will decide if Creamer, who was found guilty of beating and killing a 2-year-old, should be executed. As part of her decision-making process, she will have to determine if the killing was heinous, atrocious or cruel, if the baby’s death was especially painful and other points of law.
What she will not be asked to consider is how much taxpayers will have to spend to put Creamer to death.
Rex Dimmig, the chief assistant public defender of the 10th Judicial Circuit, estimated the cost of each execution and presented his findings to the Florida Legislature last year. If he is sentenced to death, Creamer’s case ultimately will cost Florida taxpayers about $24 million.
Dimmig also estimated Florida pays $51 million each year to have the death penalty rather than sending death penalty-eligible killers to prison for life. State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said the public has determined it is worth the extra cost to have a death penalty.
“I don’t know if you can put a value on what you’re doing to send a message,” Patronis said. A safe society has to subsidize things like prisons, courts and the extra costs associated with the death penalty.
State Attorney Glenn Hess declined to talk about the cost of the death penalty, saying it was a legislative matter that should rest with state officials. However, he supports the practice.
“It affirms the value we place on life and it clearly demonstrates our approbation for those who would kill another,” Hess said. He added the law and evidence-gathering has evolved to a point “where it is only imposed when justice truly demands it. And then only after careful scrutiny by the best legal scholars in society.”
Hess said the rise of DNA evidence makes the system safer both for defendants and prosecutors. However, 22 people who were on Florida’s death row have been exonerated. Nationwide, 139 people who once were on death row have been exonerated.
While Hess said he doubts the death penalty is a deterrent for future murderers, he said he does believe it prevents family members of victims from taking the law into their own hands.
“It keeps good people from turning bad,” Hess said.
Assistant Public Defender Kim Dowgul said she once shook the hand of a man who had been on death row for 17 years in Oklahoma. He was released when new evidence exonerated him, she said. That experience began to change her opinion about the death penalty and had a lasting experience on her.
“If you find out that they were, in fact, not guilty … you can’t bring them back,” Dowgul said. “There is no fixing that.”
Dowgul stressed she was giving only her opinion and not the opinion of the public defender’s office.
Not only are death penalty cases expensive to taxpayers but they also take up an inordinate amount of time. That time of state and federal judges and Florida’s Supreme Court could be used to deal with other important cases but those cases are crowded out, Dowgul said.
Deliberately killing a murderer has consequences far beyond money and time, Dowgul added.
“What we do by state sanction makes us no better than what they did probably in a fit of rage,” Dowgul said. “We are making a coherent decision to do that to another human being and this I have a problem with.”