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County spends more than $50K on preparation for murder trials

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Anthony Lewis, 49, of Mitchell, S.D., was arrested after a fatal stabbing Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017.2 / 2

Two murder cases that began last fall in Mitchell have cost Davison County a combined total of $56,356 thus far, and the trials are still months from beginning.

James Brinker, 39, and Anthony Lewis, 50, have both been charged with first- and second- degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.

Lewis was arrested Aug. 22 for allegedly stabbing a man four times, resulting in the man's death. About two months later, Brinker was arrested for allegedly suffocating his wife by putting a sock in her mouth and tying a belt around her head, causing her to stop breathing, according to court documents. The men pleaded not guilty to their charges on Nov. 1 and Sept. 5, respectively.

Over the first nine months of his case, Lewis' court-appointed attorney fees added up to $11,675.75. His case will last at least another four months, as his trial was originally set tentatively to begin Dec. 5, 2017, and is now scheduled to start Nov. 28.

Brinker's attorney fees amounted to $3,504.77 as of Jan. 22, with all documentation of later fees sealed, and his trial, which was originally set to begin Feb. 13, is now scheduled to start on Feb. 25, 2019.

Lewis' case is expected to last nine days, while Brinker's is scheduled to last for 10.

According to Davison County State's Attorney Jim Miskimins, it's not uncommon for murder trials to happen much later than their tentatively set dates as cases continue to develop and all parties involved are brought up to speed.

"We want fair trials, and we want to have our victims fully informed about what's going on," Miskimins said.

In both cases, much of the associated costs have come from that desire to find as much information as possible. Miskimins said in each case, the defense has filed around 30 motions and made requests for multiple experts and investigators.

Judge Chris Giles granted Brinker's requests for initial budgets of $5,000 each for experts in medical forensics, psychiatry, DNA and chemistry, as well as an additional $5,000 initial budget for a private investigator. On Oct. 26, the court determined that Brinker could also arrange to see a mental health counselor at the county's expense.

At Lewis' request, Giles granted a $5,000 initial budget for a crime reconstruction expert. In both cases, DNA testing was ordered.

Lewis' next status hearing is set for July 12, while Brinker's is scheduled for Nov. 1. If convicted of first-degree murder, a Class A felony, at their later jury trials, each man faces life in prison and a fine of $50,000.

After consulting with his alleged victim's family, the court ordered that, if convicted, Lewis could not be given the death penalty, which is a legally allowable punishment for a Class A felony.

Second-degree murder, a Class B felony, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison, which is the maximum penalty for first-degree manslaughter, a Class C felony.