State agency won’t disclose taxpayer-funded public defense costs in death penalty trial

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 10:42 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2022 at 7:15 AM CDT
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ST. CHARLES COUNTY (KMOV) -- A St. Charles County man who admitted to killing four people, including two young children, was officially sentenced to death on Thursday when a judge confirmed the jury’s verdict from last month. His defense is being paid for by taxpayers, but the state won’t release how much money was spent.

In December 2018, Richard Darren Emery shot and killed his girlfriend Kate Kasten and then the gun on Kasten’s mom Jane Moeckel and Kasten’s two children, 10-year-old Jonathan and 8-year-old Zoe.

“You’re going to get so angry that you’re going to get your gun out of a drawer and you’re going to start shooting people?”, Frederick Moeckel questioned.

Moeckel is Kate Kasten’s father. He lost his daughter, grandchildren, and ex-wife.

“If the world could be more like them, it would be a great place,” Moeckel said.

Moeckel watched as Emery recently spent weeks in a St. Charles County court room fighting for his own life, a fight he lost when he was sentenced to death.

“How do you defend somebody who admits they were guilty? There’s got to be a better way,” Moeckel said.

Moeckel questions a side of the case that often isn’t brought up. The state determined Emery couldn’t afford a lawyer and he was given representation from the Missouri State Public Defenders.

It’s a price that’s part of the justice system, but the cost is being kept from the public.

“It’s our money, we should know what they’re spending,” Moeckel said. “I would say if they’re not wanting to tell you what it is, then they’re a little bit embarrassed about what they spent on it.”

In court Emery didn’t deny the violence that happened that night in December 2018. His lawyers argued he shouldn’t be given the death penalty because he was in a mental state where he didn’t know what he was doing.

“This is my fault. I’m the screw up. I’m the one who is apparently sick,” Emery said during recent court testimony.

News 4 Investigates repeatedly reached out to Missouri State Public Defenders. The office won’t do an interview and claims it doesn’t have to provide any information about costs. It argues Missouri law maintains that public defender files are confidential.

“People need to know what’s being done with the taxpayer money that they provided to the government,” said Dave Roland, a lawyer and expert on Missouri’s open records law.

Roland, who’s also the Director of Litigation for Freedom Center of Missouri, believes client case files should be protected because of attorney-client privilege. He doesn’t believe that extends to bills.

“The important thing with billing statements is they rarely, if ever, include any privileged information,” Roland said.

News 4 Investigates brought that point to Missouri State Public Defenders. They disagree and continue to say the bills spent on Emery’s defense are confidential.

“The work done by public defenders is very important, and I don’t think that people should be too critical of the amount of money being spent by public defenders, but at the same time it’s still important for people to understand how their money is being used,” Roland added.

In its latest annual report, the public defender’s office claims it handles most death penalty cases in Missouri because “few people can afford the high costs,” but they never say exactly what that cost is. Instead, the report points to a 2017 study out of Oklahoma that found defense costs are nearly 10 times more expensive than similar cases where the death penalty isn’t on the table.

Currently, the public defender’s office has a budget of more than $61 million. In the next spending year, it is asking for $700,000 more.

During the Emery trial, at least one defense cost was clear. Public defenders spent thousands of dollars to fly in a doctor used as an expert witness.

“My rate is $375 per hour, and up to this point, prior to this week the amount that I billed for was a little over $32,000,” Dr. Michael Hendricks testified during the trial.

Hendricks is one of nearly a dozen witnesses public defenders brought it. The majority were from out of state which means even more costs for travel.

“I am amazed that we have two great universities right here in St. Louis and you can’t get an expert witness out of one of the universities,” Frederick Moeckel said.

There are some costs News 4 Investigates was able to pin down. St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar told News 4 his office paid thousands of dollars in employee overtime, expert witness costs, and travel.

“Our expenses were well into the $20,000 range,” Lohmar said.

There was also the price to sequester the jury for three weeks, which means 24/7 security from the sheriff’s office and hotel room fees. Combined with his office costs, Lohmar says that put the total much higher.

“It was in excess of $130,000 in extraordinary expenses that we would not incur in your typical case,” Lohmar said.

When asked by News 4 Investigates if he would consider it a high expense, Lohmar responded “I would, and it probably should be. It’s a rare occasion where the state is going to believe that they have a case where a jury should be given the option to take away someone’s life so that should be a very high burden.”

The tab is only going to get higher. In Missouri there’s an automatic appeal for death penalty cases, then there are possible costs for other appeals, which means it will likely be years until this case is closed.

For Lohmar it’s money well spent.

“There were three generations of a family that were extinguished in a matter of minutes, and we thought, you know there may be other cases that are worthy of death penalty consideration, but this one was at the top of the list,” Lohmar said.

For Frederick Moeckel the money spent can’t compare to the price his family keeps paying, wanting his loved one’s legacy to be more than the violence that cost their lives.

“You park it in the back somewhere, and you just don’t let it get to you. You think about it, you think about the good things and the good times,” Moeckel said. “You want to remember them as happy, smiling faces.”