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Polk murder trail has cost state close to $1 million

BARTOW — Defense lawyers for condemned murderer Leon Davis Jr. are billing the state $854,978.83 for his defense, making it the most expensive publicly funded criminal case Polk County ever has seen.

Add the state's costs to prosecute Davis, including the prosecutors' salaries, and the total expense soars beyond $1 million.

Davis, 33, was convicted in February and condemned to death in April for fatally burning Yvonne Bustamante, 27, and a pregnant Juanita "Jane" Luciano, 23, during the robbery of a Lake Wales insurance office in December 2007. The jury also found him guilty in the death of Luciano's newborn son, who was delivered prematurely the night of the attack and died three days later.

Davis' lawyers, Robert Norgard and Andrea Norgard, have billed the state $743,840 in legal fees for the 21/2 years they spent preparing their case and taking it to trial. The additional billing represents $46,051 for expert witnesses, $31,415 for investigative costs and $26,816 for court reporting expenses during pretrial hearings and the two-month trial earlier this year, along with other incidental expenses.

The Norgards, who are husband and wife, also represent Davis in a second murder case. Prosecutors have charged him with the shooting deaths of two convenience store clerks near Lake Alfred a week before the Lake Wales attack. That case is scheduled for trial next year.

The two crimes represent the worst killing rampage in Polk County history.

But the $854,978 represents expenses for only the Lake Wales case.

"I have no doubt this is the most expensive publicly funded trial Polk has ever had," said Robert Norgard, who's been representing first-degree murder defendants in Polk for more than two decades. "Most cases just aren't this complex."

The Norgards have been paid $148,824, records show, and the state is still reviewing the remaining $595,016.

In cases where defendants can't afford a lawyer, the state provides legal counsel through a public defender's office or the statewide Justice Administrative Commission. A circuit judge decides who will represent a defendant, as Circuit Judge Michael Hunter did in the Davis case. Although the commission manages payments for legal expenses, final approval for legal costs rests with the judge presiding over the case.

Norgard said the case was the most complex he has ever handled in nearly 30 years. If Davis had hired him directly, he said, he would have sought at least $1 million to take the case.

Polk murder trail has cost state close to $1 million 08/06/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 11:09pm]
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