Ex-trooper's murder trials drained millions from cash-strapped Indiana county

Former Indiana state trooper David Camm, center, walks out of the Boone County Courthouse in Lebanon, Ind., as a free man Thursday, Oct. 24. /

A former Indiana State Trooper acquitted last week in the grisly murders of his wife and two children after being tried for a third time walks free. But the county that paid for his trials remains shackled by the bill.

Officials in Floyd County are scrambling to bridge a $2.9 million budget gap amid criticism that the money spent trying David Camm three times over 13 years severely drained municipal finances.

All told, the county has spent an estimated $4.5 million on the notorious Camm trial since 2000, according to a tally of expenses calculated by the county auditor Scott Clark.

"It's really a perfect storm," said Jim Wathen, a county councilman who last week was one of the seven officials to approve a 2014 general fund budget of $11.72 million.

Officials may now be forced to terminate some of the nearly 400 county employees, take out loans or hike taxes on residents already struggling with income, Wathen said, adding that the council has to date cut 25 percent of expenditures.

"I don't know how we're going to do it without raising taxes or laying off employees," Dana Fendley, a county councilwoman, said after the council vote, according to the Courier-Journal newspaper, adding that some of her colleagues will not back layoffs.

Meanwhile, the county has already waived raises for county employees and repairs bridges and roads only in emergencies, Wathen told NBC News.

Camm, 49, was convicted in 2002 and again in 2006 in the Sept. 28, 2000, deaths of his wife, Kim, 35, his son, Brad, 7, and his daughter, Jill, 5. They were all discovered fatally shot in the garage of the family's house in the southern Indiana community of Georgetown.

The slayings happened roughly four months after Camm had resigned from the Indiana State Police service to start working with his uncle. Over the years, Camm has claimed he was playing basketball at a church gymnasium when his family was savagely murdered.

After two successful appeals, Camm's convictions were overturned on the grounds that the court permitted inadmissible and prejudicial evidence about Camm's alleged infidelity, as well as accusations that he sexually molested his young daughter.

When jurors capped off hours of deliberations and cleared Camm last Thursday, he shed tears in the Lebanon, Ind., courtroom, according to The Associated Press.

The first two trials cost Floyd County close to $3 million; this year's third trial, which started in August, has cost the county another $1.5 million, with the majority of that expense going to Camm's defense, according to Clark.

Clark said the leading items on the bill include pay for the defense, a special prosecutor, and a special judge; lodgings and other amenities for a roster of expert witnesses; jurors' compensation; and a security detail courtesy of the county sheriff's office.

Floyd County Sheriff Darrell Mills said that while the trials carried a steep price tag, the county's diminished finances are also a result of mismanagement by officials, who Mills said made unwise investments in land and infrastructure, including new voting machines, a 33-acre public park and a converted schoolhouse.

But he said the hefty price tag on the Camm trials — held in nearby Boone County but paid for by Floyd County — has done the most damage, casting a shadow over an already dispirited community.

"I've had people who work for me run out of the office crying and upset because they're worried they're going to be laid off," Mills said, adding that he doesn't think the costs of the Camm trials should bear the brunt of public scorn.

For some locals, the county's slipshod finances are cause for alarm.

"It really scares me," said Quentin Ellis, 22, a manager at a carpentry plant in New Albany, Ind., "You know, two or three or four years down the road, this might really hurt for the rich and the poor here."

Other residents are outraged by the court system's multimillion-dollar tab.

"Five million is over the top," Katrina Pate of New Albany told NBC affiliate WTHR in Indianapolis. "We ought to get some help from somewhere."

Weighed against most high-profile murder trials, the grand total stemming from the Camm case may not seem like such a strain. But for a county of just 75,000 residents already struggling to climb back into the black, it's a heavy burden to shoulder, Wathen said.

"It's really a lot of money for a very small county like Floyd to absorb," Wathen said.

Camm's relatives reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money to enlist defense lawyers for the first two trials, according to the Courier-Journal.

Julie Blankenbaker, Camm's sister, has told the newspaper: "Dave Camm is not getting a free ride." She added that her parents mortgaged their home to help foot the bill.

Officials in Floyd may also be hit by costs associated with yet another lurid legal drama — the trial of alleged serial murderer William Clyde Gibson, according to WTHR.

Gibson was found guilty last week in the slaying of his late mother's 75-year-old best friend after luring her to his New Albany house to perform "a perverse sexual fantasy" that involved mutilating her body, according to the Associated Press.

A jury has recommended Gibson face the death penalty for murdering Christine Whitis in what Floyd County prosecutor Keith Henderson said was the most disturbing crime he has ever seen, the wire service reported.

Gibson is also accused of strangling Stephanie Kirk, 35, whose remains were discovered buried in his backyard in 2012 just days after his arrest; and in the 2002 fatal stabbing of Karen Hodella, 44, of Port Orange, Fla. He will be tried separately in those gruesome murders, and also faces the death penalty in Kirk's death, according to the AP.

And the trial of Charles Boney, a New Albany, Ind., man serving 225 years behind bars in connection to the murders of Camm's wife and kids, came out to roughly $80,000, according to the Courier-Journal.

The state is slated to review the county's budget and is expected to return it to officials with an order to balance the county's shaky finances, according to NBC affiliate WAVE 3 in Louisville, Ky., which will likely force county officials to make significant decisions on revenue and spending, according to Wathen.