Sunday, February 04, 2007

Federal Prosecuters Push Hard on Death Penalty

The federal government is adopting a strategy to achieve the uniform application of the death penalty nationally, which includes seeking capital punishment in states that do no have it. Here's the backgound, from this Wall Street Journal article:

At a time when many states are backing away from capital punishment, the federal government is aggressively pursuing -- and winning -- more death sentences, including in jurisdictions that traditionally oppose them.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors in New York persuaded a jury to give a death sentence to Ronell Wilson, a 24-year-old man convicted of killing two undercover detectives by shooting each in the back of the head. The decision -- the first time in more than 50 years that a federal jury in New York agreed to sentence someone to death -- marked something of a milestone for the Justice Department in its continuing effort to apply the death penalty more evenly across the country.

Today, there are 47 people on federal death row -- more than double the number six years ago -- and Mr. Wilson this week became the seventh sentenced in a state without a death statute of its own since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. The ranks may grow in the months ahead, with several capital cases on tap in locales traditionally opposed to the death penalty.

The last federal execution was in 2003, when Louis Jones Jr. died by lethal injection at an Indiana facility where all federal executions now take place.

"I get the sense that it's really beginning to change a lot. There seems to be a renewed emphasis on this," said Jensen Barber, an attorney defending Larry Gooch, a man facing federal drug-related murder charges and a potential death sentence in Washington, D.C.

The growth in federal capital cases, many observers say, results from a heightened effort by the Justice Department to centralize the process for deciding whether prosecutors should push for capital punishment.

Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin says the government is making an effort to pursue capital punishment uniformly across the country. "We have in place a clearly defined review process to ensure the death penalty is applied in a consistent and fair manner nationwide," he said.
The national effort toward the wider application of capital punishment comes in response to increasing anti-death penalty sentiment in public opinion. There's also been a lot of activity among activist judges to get the death penalty abolished on Eighth Amendment grounds. I laid out my thoughts on the death penalty in a post last year, commenting on the California case of Michael Morales, who got a stay of execution when U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel agreed to a further review of California's drug protocols in the state's lethal injection process.

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