Does it cost Utah $1.6 million more for the death penalty?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Legislature is looking at the cost of executing someone versus giving them life in prison without parole.

At a hearing of the legislature's Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, lawmakers were briefed on the cost -- but debated over the math itself. A legislative fiscal analyst told the committee it costs taxpayers about $1.6 million more on average for death row inmates than life without parole.

Death penalty opponents have long argued that it's more expensive to execute someone when you factor in taxpayer funds to pay for prosecution, defense, experts, sentencing and then decades of appeals.

"When you look at the costs, they are substantial and they are substantial because of the penalty that is imposed," said Richard Mauro, a criminal defense attorney who has handled death penalty appeals.

The inmates on Utah's death row.

The inmates on Utah's death row.

But at Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers questioned if all factors had been weighed. Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said the $1.6 million figure was spread out over decades because of appeals.

"It sounds like a big number, but I think when you get done spreading it out I don't know if it's really as big as it sounds," Daw said.

When Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, tried to pin down whether there would be savings to the state to repeal the death penalty, fiscal analysts couldn't answer. He suggested that any savings to the state budget would be much smaller, around $10,000.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, argued that every one of Utah's nine death row inmates deserves to be there. He is planning legislation to cut down on the length of appeals for death row inmates.

"I'm not sure that we should be doing justice based on cost, we should be doing justice based on justice," he said.

In the audience for Wednesday's hearing was Linae Tiede Coats, whose family was murdered by death row inmate Von Lester Taylor. Last week, Taylor had an appeal hearing in federal court, one of many in his post-conviction relief efforts.

She told FOX 13 that lawmakers should not be debating ending the death penalty.

"To me, the murderer that Von Taylor is, he doesn't need to be alive," she said. "That's it."