The Montgomery County sheriff says early estimates show that securing the courthouse for the trials of the two sniper suspects on six first-degree murder charges could cost nearly $400,000, and another county official says he expects that the total cost of the trials could approach $2 million.
Those predictions clash with assertions by State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) that the trial will not impose any unusual spending.
The possible price tag for the trials of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo has become a source of infighting among officials a year before they are expected to begin. The two men have been convicted of the sniper shootings in Virginia, though six of the 10 killings took place in Montgomery.
County Council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) and Sheriff Raymond M. Kight (D) are publicly upbraiding Gansler for what they say are his lowball estimates.
But some other officials take Gansler's view that the trial will not be unusually expensive -- or, at any rate, that it is impossible to know potential costs so far in advance. The trials may not even take place in Montgomery.
Kight said yesterday that he expects to spend about $370,000 before a trial even begins.
He said the largest single cost, $107,507, will be to add cameras to the courthouse's largest courtroom, and to hallways, the lobby and holding cells for the defendants. The sheriff said he will also have to buy more X-ray machines and another metal detector to allow an additional entrance to be opened in the judicial center.
Kight said the expenditures are necessary because Malvo and Muhammad are "high-risk" defendants and because he is estimating that the number of people who pass through the courthouse will double from the normal number.
The cost of the trials of Malvo and Muhammad to Virginia taxpayers was put at about $3 million.
Gansler maintained yesterday that the trial should not cost more than any other case that draws wide attention.
"In my view, while the crimes that were allegedly committed in this case are unparalleled in terms of the magnitude of those crimes and the effect of those crimes, the prosecution does not differ any way from any of the other high-profile defendants that we've had in this county in recent years," Gansler said.
Kight took sharp exception to Gansler's comments.
"This is a high-risk trial, in spite of what Mr. Gansler's saying," Kight said. "Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of him butting into my business. I'm the elected sheriff, and he's the elected state's attorney. I don't run his office, and I'm not going to let him run mine."
The sheriff's office is responsible for courthouse and defendant security; the state's attorney presents the prosecution in criminal trials.
Saying he is a "huge supporter" of Kight, Gansler responded: "I am not in a position to tell anybody how to do their job or what they believe is necessary in order to do their job, and I wouldn't presume to do so."
It was the second time Gansler has been publicly criticized for playing down the possible cost. Late last month, Subin scolded Gansler at a County Council hearing.
"What is disingenuous is the claim that costs are going to be minimal," Subin said. "They're going to be extraordinary."
Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), who chairs the public safety committee, said the costs could be high.
"I'd be surprised if it ends up being less than $1 million," he said. "It could be twice that."
Kight said his estimates are based on the assumption that Malvo and Muhammad will be tried at the same time in Montgomery County -- in effect, the worst-case scenario for courthouse security. It is far from clear if the two will be tried together, as Gansler said he intends. Either or both defendants could plead guilty before trial. The trials could also be moved to another county.
Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said it is too early to estimate the cost to the police department. But he said the department may have to rent storage space for evidence and could face overtime costs to help the sheriff's office.
"It is going to be a lot of extra work, extra effort. I'm hopeful we're going to get help from other agencies," Manger said.