Public defender without funds for capital cases
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
by Kathy Chaney
Left with only $100 in their checking
account, the Cook County Public
Defender’s office said it can’t effectively
try capital cases without adequate
funding and filed June 3
motions asking judges to remove
death as punishment or appoint private
attorneys to the cases.
Abishi Cunningham, head of the
second largest public defender's
office in the country, said the office
represents 90 percent of the death
penalty cases in the county.
The majority of the defendants in
the death penalty cases are minorities
– 60 percent are African-American, 25
percent are Hispanic and 10 percent
are white, according to the public
The public defender gets money
from the state’s Capital Litigation
Trust Fund to try death penalty cases.
This year, the office was allotted $1.75
million. It initially was approved for
$2.25 million last year, but then-Gov.
Rod Blagojevich vetoed it,
The fund was set up after a moratorium
on the death penalty was
imposed in 2000 by then-Gov. George
Ryan. While the moratorium is in
place, prosecutors can still seek the
punishment should it be lifted.
“If the policy of this state is to have
a death penalty, that policy must be
accompanied by an appropriate financial
commitment to the defense of the
accused,” Cunningham told the
Cunningham filed motions for at
least 60 cases, half of its death penalty
caseload. Either take the death
penalty off the table or appoint private
attorneys, he said.