Longform

Death-Penalty Lawyers Are Making a Killing Off Maricopa Taxpayers

In early December 2010, Phoenix criminal-defense attorney Nathaniel Carr III submitted an invoice for payment to Maricopa County in the death-penalty case of Israel Naranjo.

The invoice included a notation for November 17, 2010:

"Florence interviews Willie and Adolph. We got trouble."

Carr was referring to interviews with Naranjo's two incarcerated half-brothers at the state prison in the central Arizona town. He billed the county for eight hours of work that day, which may have included travel time.

As Naranjo's lead lawyer, Carr was paid $125 an hour by Maricopa County. He is one of a group of private attorneys who hold contracts with the county to represent indigent clients in murder cases that the Public Defender agencies can't handle for one reason or another.

The eight hours on November 17 equated to $1,000 for Carr. Add to that invoices for work he said he had done in the days preceding to prepare for the prison interviews. (Carr also billed the county three hours that day in two other cases.)

"Going to see Israel's brothers on the 17th, trying to prep as much as possible," Carr wrote in his November 14 entry for 2.5 hours ($312.50).

In a November 16 invoice, Carr charged another four hours ($500) for more "preparation," and mentioned his client's imprisoned half-brother Adolph Perales.

"Adolph, he is the guy for us," Carr typed into his bill, which read (like dozens of his invoices) more like a personal journal entry than a formal request for payment from a government agency.

"Carries a lot of baggage, but is HUGE for us in mitigation."

See also: Grim Reapers: Arizona Inmates On Death Row (slideshow)

Naranjo was facing death row in the March 2007 stabbing death in Phoenix of his pregnant 38-year-old girlfriend, Delia Rivera. Evidence of his guilt included the victim's three children as eyewitnesses and a confession. Carr and his defense team had to try to persuade jurors to spare their client's life after they inevitably convicted him of murder.

Perhaps Naranjo's imprisoned half-siblings might provide compelling evidence about his particularly difficult childhood.

Carr's next billing entry was for the November 17 "we got trouble" interviews at the prison with Perales and Willie Torres, the other half-brother.

Carr sent over his November 2010 billings, as usual, to James Logan, director of Maricopa County's Office of Public Defender Services. Among many other duties, Logan is responsible for approving payments to the private criminal-defense attorneys under contract with the county.

Carr signed his name to his request for payment just above a sentence that said in part, "I do solemnly swear that the accompanying statement is a just statement of account against Maricopa County; that the work and labor specified herein have been performed."

In other words, Carr was avowing that he had done all of the work he claimed.

Without comment, Logan approved the month's billings in Naranjo, $11,985 for 102 hours of work, just as he had literally hundreds of times in Carr's murder cases since becoming his agency's director in 2007.

But Nate Carr was lying about going to Florence for those November 17, 2010 interviews.

He wasn't at the state prison that day, and he never spoke with Israel Naranjo's half-brothers.

Carr's co-counsel in Naranjo was Taylor Fox, a Phoenix attorney paid $95 an hour by the county as "second chair" in the case.

Fox also submitted an invoice to Jim Logan for November 17, 2010, saying he, too, had interviewed the half-brothers that day in Florence. For his efforts that day, Fox charged 6.8 hours (compared with Carr's eight-hour bill).

Fox was asked why both he and Carr had gone to Florence, after New Times obtained their separate billing records through a public-records request. The question seemed to stop the attorney short.

"Both of us didn't interview those guys," Fox said, after glancing at Carr's November 17 invoice, which he said he previously hadn't seen. "This is totally false, a bald-faced lie. I was down there. I spoke with those guys. Nate didn't. This is some serious lying here."

Nate Carr did not respond to repeated e-mails, phone calls, and a hand-delivered letter seeking comment.

But a representative for the Arizona Department of Corrections told New Times that Carr didn't visit with the half-brothers on November 17, 2010 — or ever. The spokesman, Bill Lamoreaux, did confirm that Taylor Fox met with Adolph Perales on that date, though he said he couldn't find a visitation record that day with the other half-brother, Willie Torres.

Fox said he took notes during his interviews with Perales and Torres, and then drafted a memo about his findings dated December 2, 2010, which he sent to Carr and Johnson.

Torres confirmed to New Times that he did meet with "a white lawyer" for his brother.

Fox is white.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin