I-Team 8

Taxpayers may fund defense for suspect in 2017 Delphi murders in Carroll County

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If a judge grants a public defender to Delphi murders suspect Richard Allen, as he has requested, that attorney must meet certain criteria to handle a murder case.

For one, the attorney must have a minimum of three years’ criminal trial experience.

Teen girls “Abby” Williams and Liberty “Libby” German were last seen on the afternoon of Feb. 13, 2017. They had been dropped off near the Monon High Bridge near Delphi in Carroll County. The next day, Carroll County Sheriff’s Office announced that it was looking for the girlsA command post was set up and the community worked to locate the girls. Their bodies were located around 12:15 p.m. that day.

In the high-profile case that’s gained worldwide attention, the judge — appointed as a special judge to handle the case, Frances C. “Fran” Gull of Allen County — could select someone from outside of Carroll County. 

Andrew Cullen, director of public policy and communications for the Indiana Public Defender Commission, told I-Team 8, “I think that the current judge who will now look at the request for a public defender will have to factor in a lot of these issues in determining how a public defender is appointed and where that person is from.”

Carroll County is about an 80-minute drive northwest of downtown Indianapolis. The rural county has about 20,000 residents. It does not have a public defender’s office, which is common for most smaller rural Indiana counties. Instead, a judge picks public defenders from a pool of local private attorneys.

I-Team asked Cullen if the judge asks a lawyer to take the case, is the attorney required to accept. “You don’t turn them down if the judge orders you to take the case, and very rarely does that happen, but one of the reasons we have the state commission is we want attorneys who accept cases where indigent determination has been made. We want those attorneys to be highly qualified.” 

Indiana pays public defenders $90 an hour, which will rise to $100 an hour on Jan. 1.

Also, the state will reimburse the county 40% for non-capital-crime cases and 50% for capital cases, provided the attorneys meet certain training and experience standards.

In requesting a public defender, Allen sent a handwritten letter to the court claiming he and his wife are broke. Both have lost their jobs, and she’s been forced to abandon their home for her safety.

In Indiana, judges determined the income and asset threshold to qualify for public defenders. Cullen said, “Each court has their own policies and procedures for how they make that determination. There is case law that clarifies the types of things that they should look at, but ultimately it is up to judicial discretion.” 

Allen was arrested on Oct. 28 on two counts of murder. Allen worked at a local CVS.

Carroll County Sherriff Tobe Lazenby requested he be moved to that state facility on Nov. 3, and the request was granted.

Allen faces two counts of murder for the killings of Abby and Libby. Although Allen was arrested, the probable cause affidavit remains sealed, a hearing is set for Nov. 22 to determine if the document will be made public, but the hearing could be rescheduled.

The specific murder charges he faces indicate investigators believe he may have committed additional crimes.

The Carroll County prosecutor has not sought the death penalty. Should Allen’s case become a death penalty case, there are less than 20 death penalty-certified public defenders in Indiana.

Plus, according to a state study, a death penalty case could exceed several hundred thousand dollars, or 10 times a murder case seeking a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Cullen said, “We will be keeping an eye on it because it will certainly be a significant expense for both the county and the state depending on how long the case takes and how much legal representation is needed.”

The cost of a high-profile murder case can drain the general fund of a smaller county. For example, Parke County west of Indianapolis raised its county income tax to cover the cost of death penalty case in 2009. Also, Grant County officials transferred $500,000 for a death penalty case in 2004.