Steve Chapman

By that time, many stacks of taxpayer money will be gone. A capital murder trial costs far more than a non-capital one, because of the extra sentencing proceeding, the special protections mandated by law and the huge amount of time required.

The Death Penalty Information Center notes that the difference can exceed $1 million. And the additional cost may be wasted, since "only one in every three capital trials may result in a death sentence" and "only one in 10 death sentences handed down may result in an execution."

Given diminishing public enthusiasm for capital punishment, there is no guarantee that if Holmes wound up on Death Row, the sentence would ever be carried out. Michael Radelet, a professor with the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, notes that a future governor could decide to commute all outstanding death sentences -- as Illinois Gov. George Ryan did. "The odds that he'll be killed are about the same as the odds of a snowstorm in Orlando tonight," he told me.

Death penalty advocates will argue that prosecutors owe it to the victims and their families to demand the death penalty. But that path offers cold comfort.

Marilyn Peterson Armour of the University of Texas at Austin and Mark Umbreit of the University of Minnesota conducted interviews with families of murder victims in Texas, which has capital punishment, and Minnesota, which doesn't. Those in Minnesota, they found, "show higher levels of physical, psychological and behavioral health" -- apparently because "the appeals process in Texas was drawn out, elusive, delayed and unpredictable."

Prosecutors can put Coloradans through that maddening process in the Holmes case. Or they can save everyone a lot of trouble by locking him up for good.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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