County asked to pay $5K a day fee for expert

A local murder suspect wants pathologist used in Casey Anthony trial.

The catch is the $5,000-per day-price tag, which would be picked up by the taxpayers since the defendant, Ralph E. Donaldson, is indigent. County prosecutors are opposing Spitz’s appointment.

“The county, given its budgetary problems, should not be put in a position to pay the fee scheduled requested by said expert,” assistant county prosecutor David Franceschelli wrote in an opposition motion filed Aug. 11.

Common Pleas Judge Greogry F. Singer will have a hearing today to determine whether to honor the motion filed Aug. 5 by attorney Al Wilmes, which includes a fee schedule for Spitz, an internationally known expert who has more than five decades of experience.

Spitz testified in the Warren County’s Ryan Widmer case, the Mary Jo Kopechne case, the Phil Spector murder trial and the wrongful death civil lawsuit against O.J. Simpson. He also testified before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Franceschelli declined comment. Wilmes said he did not know that Spitz had testified in those cases, and that he got Spitz’s name from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.

“I was just trying to find a pathologist,” Wilmes said. “Cause of death is a major issue.”

According to his motion, Wilmes wants Spitz to review reports concerning the death of Deborah Nooks, Donaldson’s ex-girlfriend, whom he beat into a permanently disabled state in 1997.

Donaldson pleaded guilty in March 1997 to attempted murder and was sentenced to eight years in prison, plus an additional 12 years for violating his parole on aggravated robbery charges.

The two were parolees who met at a halfway house in 1995. After Nooks tried to break up with him, Donaldson attacked her, including stomping her head with his boots.

Nooks, who was left blind, brain damaged and only able to communicate for years by blinking her eyes, died in a nursing home in August 2009. The prosecutor’s office then indicted him on a murder charge last December.

Wilmes’ motion includes the fee schedule. Spitz charges $400 per hour to review medical reports. A written opinion costs $1,500. To testify outside of Michigan, where he is based, Spitz charges $5,000 a day plus expenses.

“The State of Ohio submits that a fee schedule submitted by their proposed expert is not only unreasonable, but is outrageous,” Franceschelli wrote.

In cases of indigent defendants, the court does pay for expert witness fees. Court guidelines recommend paying $1,500 for a private investigator and $2,000 for a medical expert.

In 2009, Montgomery County Common Pleas Court’s general division, which hears nearly all adult felony cases, paid $107,236. 41 for expert witness costs. The total number of bills was 55, or an average of $1,950 per bill.

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