SIOUX FALLS, SD -
The Minnehaha County Public Defender's Office says it's short on funding and asked a judge to throw out the possibility of the death penalty against an admitted killer.
Public Defender Traci Smith says the Minnehaha County State's Attorney's Office has an unfair advantage in the James McVay case because it has more resources.
McVay has pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the 2011 murder of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein. He is now facing the death penalty.
McVay has a team of three attorneys from the Minnehaha County Public Defender's Office including Smith who heads up the office.
Smith says last year the Public Defender's Office asked for another attorney to help with its growing caseload, but was only granted a paralegal. At the same time Minnehaha County Commissioners gave the State's Attorney's Office three new staff members, including another deputy prosecutor.
Smith argues that it doesn't give her office adequate resources to defend McVay.
"The court found he has a top notch defense and has not been limited whatsoever," Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan said.
McGowan disagrees with Smith, and so did Judge Peter Lieberman on Thursday.
"It looks to me that the county commission has done a pretty good job of equally funding offices. Mr. McVay is receiving a first rate defense," Lieberman said Thursday as he denied Smith's motion.
McGowan's office has 24 attorneys, two of those attorneys handle civil cases, which means 22 handle strictly criminal cases; it’s the same number of attorneys as in the Public Defender's Office.
Smith didn't want to comment on the ruling after court.
McGowan says the public defense attorneys in Minnehaha County are not at a disadvantage because this year public defenders and advocates have been budgeted to spend more than $120,000 on training, expert witnesses and legal research, his office is slated to receive just under $25,000.
"We're quite pleased with the court's decision. We agree with it. There is no unequal funding issue here and that was the order of the court,” McGowan said.
McVay is scheduled for a month-long death penalty hearing starting March 17, 2014.
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