June 17, 2019

Pima County prosecutor's new book describes capital punishment as arbitrary

Rick Unklesbay has successfully argued murder cases that resulted in 16 death sentences.

This week, Arizona 360 explored the time, money and emotional toll associated with capital punishment by hearing from those who have close knowledge of the system. Currently, 116 inmates are sitting on Arizona's death row. As a longtime prosecutor for Pima County, Rick Unklesbay has successfully argued murder cases that resulted in 16 death sentences for defendants. In his new book, Arbitrary Death, Unklesbay revisits nine cases in which his office sought the death penalty. He also delves into why he no longer supports capital punishment, which he also discussed with Lorraine Rivera.

"I've been a prosecutor for 38 years or so, and having worked in the system that long and seeing how these cases proceed, it strikes me that if people really knew what the system was about they would say: 'We don't need this. We have an alternative of natural life,'" Unklesbay said.

According to Unklesbay, inmates spend an average of 20 years on death row, and fees associated with court-appointed attorneys assigned to help them through the lengthy appeals process can total several million dollars.

"At a minimum of a million dollars. But that's really the very low end. And it's more likely that it is $3, $4, $5 million dollars over the course of the appeal," Unklesbay said.

Proceeds from Arbitrary Death benefit Homicide Survivors, Inc., a nonprofit that provides support to the families and loved ones of homicide victims.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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