Brittany would have turned 14 just last month; her little sister, Tori, would be 12. The two girls and their mother might be preparing for the upcoming holidays, shopping for gifts, spending time with family.

But all three lives ended hideously, abruptly, violently two years ago.

It has been a little more than two years since prosecutors in Parke County filed their intention to seek the death penalty against the accused killer in one of the most heinous crimes in Parke County in recent memory.

But some Parke County residents are questioning whether the cost of seeking the death penalty is worth the possible financial strain on the community.

Small-Town Rampage

Chad Cottrell, 37, of Rockville is charged with the shooting of his 29-year-old wife, Trisha Cottrell, and her two daughters, Brittany Williams, 12, and Victoria “Tori” Williams, 10, in the Cottrell home in late October 2005. The children had been molested prior to being killed, according to court records.

Cottrell, an early suspect in the case, fled to Minnesota, where officers apprehended him Nov. 1, 2005 after a high-speed chase. He was extradited to Indiana.

Parke County Prosecutor Steve Cvengros filed an intention to seek the death penalty Nov. 10, 2005. He was not required by law to seek the death penalty, but the circumstances surrounding the crime made it eligible. It is Cvengros’ first capital case, and the first in Parke County in a very long time. Cvengros said the last time there was a death penalty case in the area was in the 1860s.

The cost of the trial has been estimated to cost the county more than $800,000.

A 0.25 percent increase in the Parke County Economic Development Income Tax was approved in April by the Parke County Council and went into effect Oct. 1 to pay for the capital trial. The tax will last three years, and is expected to bring the county $586,900 for 2008 alone, according to Parke County Auditor Diana Hazlett.

The case is scheduled for trial in Hamilton County Superior Court in Noblesville in February. Cottrell was granted a change of venue after defense attorneys claimed a fair trial in Parke County was unlikely. The accused is represented by public defender and Terre Haute attorney Jessie Cook, a regular defender in capital cases. Cottrell’s other attorney is Eric K. Koselke, based in Indianapolis.

Dollars and Sense

While much is disputed between those who favor the death penalty and those who want it abolished, everyone can agree that seeking the sentence is costly.

During a meeting Nov. 13 of the Parke County Quality of Life Council – a local citizens group dedicated to making life better for the people of Parke County – about 18 people listened to a public defense expert discuss the costs involved in a death penalty case.

Larry A. Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, explained the many reasons why those costs are so high.

Cook, who was not available the night of the meeting, invited Landis to speak to the group.

The State of Indiana will pay the costs for the prosecution, but ensuring the accused gets the best defense possible is what makes death penalty cases so much more costly than other types of trials. An estimated $180,000 has already been spent on Cottrell’s defense, according to Landis.

After the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s, Landis explained, public defenders were appointed by judges to defend capital cases. Lawyers back then would be paid a flat, contracted amount for an unlimited amount of work, and there was no money available for bringing in expert witnesses or doing detailed investigations.

“There was a lot of concern about the quality of defense in death penalty cases,” Landis said. “They tried [capital cases] just like any other burglary … with no additional resources or investigation.”

The reversal rate on capital cases was nearly 50 percent from the 1980s through the early 1990s, and most of the convictions that were overturned were because of “ineffective assistance of counsel,” he said.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s dissatisfaction with the reversal rate, Landis said, a new procedural rule was passed, requiring two attorneys to defend the accused. Those lawyers have to be paid by the hour and they have to have available to them resources that allow them to put on a proper defense, including expert witnesses, and resources to investigate and provide evidence that might persuade a jury that the death penalty is not appropriate.

Death penalty filings have gone down, he said, because the rules have made capital cases “enormously expensive,” compared to murder cases in which the prosecution seeks life without parole.

“That has changed the whole landscape of how many people actually get the death penalty,” Landis said.

He added that because of the delays and appeals associated with capital cases, only 3 percent of those cases filed as death-penalty cases actually result in an execution.

That number takes into account cases that were filed seeking the death penalty, but were pleaded out before going to trial, and those in which a jury recommends life without parole, he said.

Landis estimated the cost of the Cottrell case could reach $1.3 million before any appeals have begun.

Cvengros, who was not made aware of the meeting, said later during a phone interview that if Cottrell is found guilty by a jury, then in the sentencing phase, “the jury would have to come to a unanimous decision on whether to recommend the death penalty or life without parole, or a fixed term of years [which would have the possibility of parole].”

The judge would then be bound by the jury’s recommendation. But if the jury is not unanimous about the sentence, then the judge determines the sentence, Cvengros said.

The citizens group expressed concern that such a large amount of money could be spent for Cottrell’s defense and then, even if he is found guilty, he may not be executed.

David Martin, a member of the Parke County citizens group, said, “The way I look at it, every dollar spent on something like this is a dollar that we can’t use for other things [in the county] we’ve heard about.”

The Cost of Justice

Some say trying to do a cost-benefit analysis of justice is inappropriate.

Parke County Commissioner Jim Meece, who was not at the meeting on Nov. 13, said later during a phone interview that while he appreciates the work of those trying to make good decisions for Parke County, “…We can’t be making prosecutorial decisions based upon what it’s going to cost. Otherwise you’d get to where we’d not prosecute people because you didn’t want to spend money on them. That’s probably not the best way for government to be making decisions.

“If state law calls for this to be a capital case, I’d be hard-pressed to second-guess [Cvengros] on how he should run his office,” Meece added. “It’s not my realm to make that decision. That’s why we elect a prosecutor to make those decisions.”

Meece said he wished it didn’t have to cost so much, but the raising of the CEDIT is to be used solely for the trial, and nothing else. The tax then “goes away,” he said.

Although Parke County is always in need of money for infrastructure and the county is hoping to develop an industrial park, making a decision on how to handle a murder case “wouldn’t be something you would do for the cost,” Meece said. “You need to do the right thing.”

Death penalty abolitionists have long cited the enormous costs of defending (and prosecuting) capital cases as one of many reasons to end the practice altogether. But as pro-death penalty supporters often point out, the cost of incarcerating an offender for 30, and sometimes 40 or 50 years, is not cheap either.

Landis added that a typical LWOP trial could cost the county between $70,000 and $100,000. Cvengros said those cases can be appealed, too. In death penalty cases, the Indiana Public Defender Commission, which was created in 1989 to help pay for capital cases, can reimburse counties up to 50 percent of expenses associated with the case.

One person present at the Parke County citizens group meeting said, “It seems like the county becomes the victim.”

The Victims’ Voices

Although the murder victims’ family members do not make the final decision about how the case is filed, Cvengros said he has talked with them at length.

“I’m going to put a lot of weight on what they say and their wishes,” he said. “I can also say just from talking to some folks around the community there are people … a number of people in the community that believe [the death penalty] is worth pursuing.”

Rick Zaikovsky and Trish Parker-Zaikovsky, of Terre Haute, say the cost of seeking death for Cottrell should not be a factor.

The Zaikovskys have brand new school clothes from 2005 hanging in their closets for granddaughters Brittany and Tori Williams. Still adjusting to what Trish calls their “new normal,” the couple rely on their faith, family and close friends to help them sort out the nightmare that took their daughter (Trish’s stepdaughter) and two grandchildren two years ago.

At the time, Brittany was living with the Zaikovskys; Tori had been living with her father and stepmother, Ryan and Starla Williams, in Rosedale. The two girls had gone to visit their mother and stepfather (Cottrell) for the weekend leading up to Halloween.

Trish Parker-Zaikovsky, who discovered her slain family members on Halloween morning, said during a recent phone interview that she often gets hit with such overwhelming emotion that she has to pull her car over.

“If you wouldn’t have the death penalty for this,” she said, “what would you have it for?”

Rick Zaikovsky, during a recent phone interview, said, “Anyone who has not suffered a loss at the hands of another, they don’t have a vote in my opinion … I don’t think they have earned the right to say this costs too much.

“What is the proper dollars and cents amount that you put on justice?” he continued. “What does justice cost and where do we say no, this costs too much?

“… As good-hearted and as well-meaning as [the people of Parke County] are, they may be sending absolutely the wrong message to… evil people that if you’re going to kill somebody … do it in a county where they can’t afford justice,” Rick Zaikovsky said.

A Life Sentence

Cvengros said the citizens group that met to discuss the costs may have been part of an overall strategy from those who are against the death penalty to get rid of it this way, since “they haven’t been able to get it abolished through the legislature.”

He added that he is more than happy to talk about any of the issues surrounding death penalty cases in general, including the costs, although he is prohibited by law from discussing particular aspects of pending litigation.

“The [Parke County Quality of Life] group hasn’t contacted me yet,” Cvengros said. “I would be more than happy to attend their next meeting.”

As members of the Parke County community continue to debate the cost of justice, family members of the slain woman and her daughters will wait to see what happens.

Trish Parker-Zaikovsky said she and her husband are already serving a life sentence.

“Nobody is going to come back and say, ‘OK, here’s your kids back, you’ve suffered enough,’” Rick Zaikovsky said. “… Why should [Cottrell’s] sentence be equal to or less than ours?”

Cottrell’s next court date is Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. in Hamilton County Superior Court in Noblesville. He remains in the Parke County Jail awaiting trial.

Deb Kelly can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or

What to know

The Parke County Local Income Tax increased from 1.5 percent to 2.55 percent effective Oct. 1, according to Parke County Auditor Diana L. Hazlett.

The breakdown (in percents), with the years of adoption, is as follows:

• 1 – CAGIT: property tax relief, 1987

• 0.25 – CEDIT: building of new jail, 1996

• 0.25 – Inventory tax: business inventory, 2004

• 0.30 – Property tax relief: offset of property taxes, Sept. 2007

• 0.25 – Property tax relief: offset of property taxes, Sept. 2007

• 0.25 – Public safety: offset property taxes, to fund public safety cost, April 2007

• 0.25 – Additional CEDIT: capital murder trial, April 2007

All rates were adopted by the Parke County Council.

Source: Parke County Auditor’s Office Memo. For more information, call the Auditor’s Office at (765) 569-3422.

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