March 26, 2007


Three fired U.S. attorneys balked at seeking death penalty: Prosecutors in California, Michigan and Arizona share a reluctance to pursue the ultimate punishment. (Richard A. Serrano, Tom Hamburger and Ralph Vartabedian, March 26, 2007, LA Times)

As a U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., Margaret Chiara, who once studied to become a nun, appealed several times to the Justice Department against having to seek the death penalty. In hindsight, for her it was a risky business.

No prisoner has been executed in a Michigan case since 1938, but the Bush administration seemed determined to change that. Under Attys. Gen. John Ashcroft and Alberto R. Gonzales, far more federal defendants have been dispatched to death row than under the Clinton administration. And any prosecutors wishing to seek other punishment often find themselves overruled.

Chiara was not the only one to run afoul of the administration's death penalty stance.

In San Francisco, U.S. Atty. Kevin Ryan was ordered by Ashcroft to conduct a capital trial for a Californian charged with killing a man with a booby-trapped mail bomb. Ryan persuaded Ashcroft's successor, Gonzales, to drop the death charge; last month the defendant, David Lin, was acquitted in San Jose.

In Phoenix, prosecutor Paul Charlton was told repeatedly, despite his resistance, to file capital murder charges in a case where the victim's body has not been recovered. The woman's remains are believed buried deep in an Arizona landfill, but the Justice Department refused Charlton's request to shoulder the cost -- up to $1 million -- to retrieve the corpse.

The three prosecutors are among eight U.S. attorneys terminated last year in a housecleaning by the Justice Department.

What's the country coming to when bureaucrats are forced to do their jobs or hit the bricks?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 26, 2007 10:47 AM
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