Already in prison, Drew Peterson’s murder-for-hire defense costs taxpayers over $260K

Drew Peterson is back in the news, but this time it’s because he’s costing you big money.

The cop who was convicted of killing one wife and suspected of murdering another is piling up legal bills for a different crime: plotting to murder the prosecutor who put him behind bars.

The State of Illinois has paid to defend inmates who kill other inmates and spent far less than it did to defend Peterson. And no one was hurt.

Peterson is currently serving what amounts to a life sentence at the Menard Correctional Center down in the southern tip of Illinois.

The prison is just a mile from the courthouse that was home to Peterson’s most recent court case.  The week-long trial ended with the jury reaching a guilty verdict in just one hour.

Peterson’s attorney submitted bills to the state totaling $75,293.  The Illinois Department of Corrections says Peterson’s lawyer’s bill was three times the amount corrections spent in all of last year on all of the private attorneys appointed to defend inmates.

Most inmates charged with committing crimes while behind bars are appointed public defenders, which keeps the bills down and limits the surprise to taxpayers.

WGN Investigates attempted to talk to Peterson’s attorney Lucas Liefer.  Liefer’s firm is located in the small town Red Bud, Illinois and handles just about any type of litigation the locals throw its way.

Liefer may not want to comment on Peterson’s bills, but legal experts say his bill wasn’t the most shocking in the stack. Kevin McClain, the private investigator Liefer used on the Peterson case, stands to make nearly double the amount the lawyer pulled in.

WGN Investigates dug deep into the invoices and found the investigator did a lot of driving and billed the state at least $5,593 for drive time. He also says he performed “internet and social media research” on Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow.  That cost taxpayers $902. The private eye also tracked down and interviewed fellow inmates, reviewed prison audio recordings and dubbed DVD’s. Grand total for McLain Investigations: $144,411.

WGN Investigates attempted to talk to McLain too but he wasn’t at the office and declined to talk when reached by phone.

Add up the lawyer’s bill, investigator’s charges and work done by a forensics lab and you get a grand total of $264,808, all spent to defend a man already in prison.

Judge Richard Brown signed off on the expenses.  He oversaw Peterson’s murder-for-hire trial and says he appointed a private attorney because of the complexity of the case.  As for the investigator’s $144,000 dollar bill, Judge Brown says, ““All I’ll say is the bills submitted were approved and they were itemized.”

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Richard Kling says he knows of no judge, state or federal, in Cook County who would approve of a six-figure investigation into what he sees as a pretty basic case.  He says a few thousand dollars is all most judges will allow.

“I’m not sure what the investigator would have been doing,” Kling says. “It’s not DNA issues. It not gunshot residue. It’s ‘Let’s talk to some people in the penitentiary.”  A judge up here wouldn’t let Mr. McLain put in that much time and be paid for it.”

But Judge Brown counters and says, “If I were to tell the defense ‘you can’t spend any more,' then in fact I think it could be said later the defendant wasn’t given a fair trial.”

WGN Investigates asked Joel Brodsky, the attorney who rode Peterson’s first case to fame, to look at the legal bills.  While he calls them ‘highly questionable,” he says the bigger question for taxpayers is why prosecutors went through the time and expense of trying Peterson in the murder-for-hire case in the first place.

“I don’t care what he’s plotting, serious or not, there’s no real threat to Glasgow,” Brodsky says.  “They could have done other things.  They didn’t have to try him.  They could have put him in the segregation unit where was sitting by himself in a cell for five years.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections balked at paying the bills but in the end a judge ruled that since the state decided to prosecute Peterson the state had to pay to defend him.

“I think this is going to be a lesson learned for the agency,” said said Gladyse Taylor of the Illinois Department of Corrections.  “And if we have another situation like this we will be very diligent in reviewing this prior to the decision a judge will make on whether we have to pay it.”

Peterson’s defense cost the Illinois Dept. of Corrections more than it’s spent to defend an inmate in 18 years.

And the meter may still be running.  Peterson is appealing his murder-for-hire conviction.  It’s expected an appellate defender will represent him in that case which, in theory, would keep Peterson’s next round of legal bills more manageable.