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Editorial: No death penalty in Sallee case sound move


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Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash’s decision not to seek the death penalty against the man charged with killing four people in Waynesville last spring was pragmatic and in the best interests of the families and Bartholomew County.

The decision ensures a quicker resolution to the case, saves the county a lot of money and spares relatives of having emotional wounds reopened many times.

Samuel E. Sallee, 56, was charged in December with four counts of murder in connection with the May 11 shooting deaths of Katheryn M. Burton, 53; Thomas W. Smith, 39; Aaron T. Cross, 41; and Shawn L. Burton, 40.

Nash met a Feb. 20 deadline set by Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Sallee, whose trial is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. June 24.

Death-penalty cases follow intricate rules of procedure, and attorneys who handle such cases must have experience in them and have completed training courses offered by the Indiana Public Defender Commission. Sallee’s court-

appointed attorneys from Columbus, David Nowak and Christopher Clerc, do not have that training and would have had to be replaced. That would have delayed the trial so new attorneys could get up to speed on the case.

Had Nash pressed for the death penalty, the case would have become more costly. An estimated 100 additional people would have had to be brought in for jury interviews, and jurors would be sequestered. The court would have had to make arrangements for hotel rooms, security and transportation.

Floyd County taxpayers recently paid $4 million for a death-penalty case.

Costs for a death-penalty case also can be high because of the time it takes for all potential appeals to be exhausted. Nash told family members of the victims that the average time between the offense and execution is about 20 years. Some of the family members thought that was too long of a wait.

The idea of tearing open emotional wounds every time the case was appealed wasn’t appealing, either.

The prosecutor considered all of the factors involved and determined that seeking the death penalty didn’t make sense.

A murder conviction in Indiana ranges from 45 to 65 years in prison. Convictions on four counts would mean 180 to 260 years in prison.

That’s a death sentence in itself.

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