how many underfunded local police forces or local schools or crime victim funds or roads construction crews could have been more productive than was the criminal justice system with this billion dollars wasted by Texas prosecutors trying to have the state kill Johnny Paul Penry for his admitted crime[?]
The particular irony in the Penry case is that prosecutors' pursuit of the death penalty lead to accomplishments, but mostly by those favoring death penalty abolition. The time and money spent on the Penry case surely diverted some Texas prosecutors from spending time and money pursuing other capital cases. Moreover, the two Supreme Court Penry decision were critical catalysts for the Court's ultimate ruling in 2002 that the Eighth Amendment demands a categorical ban on the execution of all persons who suffer from mental retardation. So, to be accurate, the billion dollars invested by Texas prosecutors in the Penry case did have some positive pay-off — but really only for those who oppose capital punishment.
Quite a few commenters thought the $1 billion estimate was way too high (don't people become lawyers so they won't have to do math?), but Berman replied that "Given that NJ spent $250,000,000 on its death penalty without even having a single DP case go deep into the federal habeas process, I do not think the ONE BILLION price tag for the Penry case is completely out of whack as an educated guess."
Karl Keys thought the number might be closer to $50 million - a large sum to be sure, but 1/20 of Professor Berman's estimate. Calculated in current day dollars (i.e, taking into account inflation over 30 years), the total might exceed double that amount, since much of the cost was borne in the 1980s and '90s. Karl suggested, correctly:
I think your math is bad due to a faulty assumption about per unit costs. The per unit cost of the first execution is high but dramatically drops once you get out to 400+ execution range that Texas now occupies.That's a good point, though a sad commentary. Last year more than 60% of all executions carried out in America took place in Texas. At a certain point you create an economy of scale, and soon thereafter, a monstrosity.