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Prosecutor’s office gets $100K for expert witnesses

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | March 23, 2024 1:06 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County commissioners unanimously approved a $100,000 request from the prosecutor’s office to spend on expert witnesses.

Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Stanley Mortensen said his office has spent about $35,000 of its $55,000 budget for expert witnesses, who are paid to review cases and provide testimony. The remaining $20,000 won’t be enough to see the office through until October, when the next fiscal year begins.

The request came days after a jury convicted former Idaho State Police trooper Daniel Howard of second-degree murder and felony domestic battery, following a 10-day trial that featured testimony from multiple expert witnesses. Mortensen said expert witnesses make a big impact in criminal trials.

“I can’t express to the board how crucial this is,” Mortensen told commissioners Thursday. “We heard from one of the jurors (from the Howard murder trial) already ... and he expressed to us how important it was to have heard from our expert witnesses in rendering his guilty verdict. Unfortunately, this is the cost of doing business.”

The $100,000 will come from the county’s justice contingency fund.

Commissioner Bruce Mattare said he supports providing funds for expert witnesses.

“I think you do need the money if you’re going to be able to effectively prosecute,” he said to Mortensen. “But I think it’s important to understand that it’s not just us that (you have to come to in order to) get that money. It’s also the taxpayers, because we have to go to them.”

Of the expert witnesses who testified in the Howard trial, Mortensen said one has submitted a $12,000 final bill. Another witness is expected to submit a $20,000 bill, while three others will likely bill between $20,000 and $40,000 each.

Expert witnesses who testified include Dr. Jennifer Nara, a forensic pathologist and former Spokane County medical examiner, bloodstain analyst Randolph Beasley, burn specialist Dr. Barclay Stewart, trauma surgeon Dr. Ryan Rambaran and Dr. Bill Smock, a physician in forensic medicine who previously testified in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police detective Derek Chauvin.

Mortensen said his office also needs to pay $14,000 to secure an expert witness for a different trial.

The prosecuting attorney said his office may publish an accounting of funds spent on expert witnesses so Kootenai County taxpayers can see where the money is going.

In January, commissioners approved a “budget neutral” transfer of up to $200,000 from the prosecutor’s office to KCSO to cover security expenses associated with the murder trial. The money was not transferred directly to the sheriff’s office; rather, overtime pay for deputies has been pulled from the prosecutor’s office budget.

Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris confirmed Friday that the law enforcement agency has used about $94,000 of the funds.

The sheriff’s office surveillance team caught Daniel Howard last Friday at the Spokane International Airport, Mortensen said.

“There’s no way (KCSO) could’ve done that without this money,” he told commissioners.

The prosecutor’s office will put the remaining funds toward paying expert witnesses.