Starr Co. outsources capital murder cases

Burdened by the cost of a recent capital murder case, Starr County will be partnering with Lubbock County which will represent Starr County’s indigent defendants in capital murder cases.

For the defense of Jesus Angel Rebollar, who was convicted on two counts of capital murder earlier this month, the county spent an estimated $200,000 — about $50,000 in attorney’s fees and $150,000 that the county had to deposit in an escrow account.

“Capital murders are very expensive,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said during Commissioners Court on Tuesday, pointing out the county had two other capital murder cases that are expected to go to trial.

Through the interlocal agreement with Starr County’s Regional Public Defender’s Office, Lubbock County will provide court-appointed defense attorneys for Starr’s capital murder cases.

Lubbock County is the administrative county for the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases office, a program in which other counties throughout the state are welcome to participate at a fee.

“It’s sort of like insurance and they will defend us, or help us, in capital murder cases which are the expensive cases for counties like ours,” Vera said. “So it’s an insurance.”

Issues over attorney’s fees in the Rebollar case led defense attorney O. Rene Flores to request that the case be dismissed if the county did not pay.

Dismissal was avoided, however, after the presiding judge ordered the county pay the $35,000 that had been billed up to that point and deposit $150,000 into a trust. Those funds would be dispersed by the court to pay future fees. Vera said it’s unclear how much remained in the account and therefore be refunded to the county.

The annual fee for the agreement with Lubbock, which is based off of population, will cost Starr County $34,617.

“I think the cost is certainly reasonable,” Vera said.

“Also by going into this interlocal agreement with Lubbock, it also makes it more feasible for us to get a grant to offset some of that $200,000 that was spent,” Vera added, referring to a state grant available to counties to help cover unusual costs.

“I was told the if we had this insurance, the state would look more favorable to us because now at least we’re trying to do something to offset that expense where the state wouldn’t be doing it all the time,” Vera said. “We’re picking up our own slack for lack of a better word.”