Thursday, June 16, 2005

The federal death penalty: 17-64

Suppose you were the manager of a major league baseball team. And suppose your record was 17 victories, 64 defeats. That's right. 17-64. You're maybe the manager of the Kansas City Royals or the Tampa Bay Devil a bad year.

Since 2001, the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice have sought the death penalty 81 times. 17 times they've convinced a jury. 64 times they've failed. 17-64.

They've failed in many jurisdictions that don't have a state death penalty. For example, they've failed in Puerto Rico. They've failed (twice!) in Washington, D.C.

Most recently, they failed in Alexandria, Virginia (which of course does have a state death penalty.

This paragraph from the Washington Post caught my eye:

Since 2001, federal juries nationwide have declined to sentence defendants to death in 64 out of the 81 cases in which prosecutors have sought capital punishment. After 13 consecutive rejections over the past six months, a federal jury in Chicago sentenced a podiatrist to death late last month for killing a witness in a Medicaid fraud prosecution.

In the latest Virginia case where they failed (and by the way, updating the above paragraph, they are now 1-15 in their last 16 attempts) 11 jurors decided that the defendants' lives could have value if they counselled other youth to avoid gang violence:

In the end, without a unanimous vote for the death penalty, the two men will be sentenced automatically to life in prison without the possibility of release for the murder of Brenda Paz, 17. But 11 jurors found a different way to send a message: They wrote an unusual paragraph into their verdict form expressing the hope that Grande and Cisneros use their decades in jail to counsel Latino youths on the dangers of gangs.

"We felt it would be impossible to bring Brenda Paz back to life," said one juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the charges. "Some of us thought that if anything good could come out of this, it could be a message to the youth to not get involved in gangs."