Saving 49 Lives (Part 6)

cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

The voice of him that cryeth in the Wilderness

Isaiah 40:3

Ut oh.  Ut oh.  Ut oh.  I’m wondering whether my little, disorganized, spontaneous, repetitive campaign to require the new Attorney General to review the 49 pending federal death penalty cases and to decide that federal prosecutors shouldn’t be seeking the death penalty in these cases, has worn out my readership, my welcome, and any remaining goodwill.  That’s how it is, sometimes, when there’s more persistence than creativity.  But I soldier on, vox clamatis in deserto.

The petition now has 75 signatures, for which I am incredibly thankful.  If you haven’t signed it yet, please do so.  It is a concrete way to ask Attorney General Holder to review all of the 49 pending federal death penalty cases and to decide that his prosecutors have no business seeking the death penalty in these cases.

And many, many people have sent Attorney General emails at or via, the Justice Department’s email address, encouraging him to review these 49 cases and not to seek the death penalty in them.  Again, please do so, too.

Please join me in the wilderness.  


This is the sixth essay in a weeklong series.  You can also read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 right here at docuDharma and also at GOS

Today someone asked me an interesting question about my efforts to have Attorney General Holder review these cases.  Said he, “Can the Attorney General actually review these cases and change the previous decision on whether to seek the death penalty?”  The answer is, yes, and it’s happened before.

Here’s a National Law Journal article from December, 2004:

On Nov. 12, Nicholas Garaufis, a federal judge who sits in the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn and Long Island), criticized Ashcroft’s decision to seek the death penalty in the pending murder trial of mob boss Joseph Massino. Convicted in July of seven racketeering murders, Massino already faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

“Mr. Ashcroft’s choice to make such a sobering and potentially life-ending decision now,” Garaufis read from a prepared statement at a court hearing, “after several delays, and only after tendering his resignation to the President and announcing to the country that he no longer wishes to preside over the Department of Justice, is deeply troubling to this court.”

The judge acknowledged his responsibility to accept the decision, but added that he hopes Gonzales, upon taking office, will “reach an independent assessment.”

“Accordingly,” Garaufis said, “at the appropriate time, I shall issue an order directing the Government to resubmit the matter to the new Attorney General for his consideration.”

Four days later came the announcement that Ashcroft had rescinded an order he issued in January 2003 demanding that prosecutors seek the death penalty in the murder trial of Jairo Zapata. The earlier decision drew immediate fire because lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York had already signed a cooperation agreement with Zapata. The attorney general’s action was criticized for jeopardizing future agreements.

Ultimately, Massino pleaded guilty and Garaufis sentenced him to life without parole, as required.  And the Government didn’t seek the death penalty against Zapata.

The point: the Attorney General has previously reviewed decisions to seek the death penalty, and has also reversed the previous decisions.  Attorney General Holder clearly can reverse any of the death penalty decisions made by his three Republican predecessors.

Please ask your friends, relatives, colleagues, family members to sign the petition and to write to AG Holder.  And please, if you have any ideas that will bring others to making this request to the AG, leave them in the comments.

We can save these lives.  Let’s do that.

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    • davidseth on February 6, 2009 at 2:51 am

    I admit it.  I feel a lot like I’m a public radio, on air fund drive.  But this is an important topic, and it just needs a little push.

    Please help me with this if you can.

    Thanks for reading.

  1. … this is a hard thing to understand.  Torture, death penalty, our prison system for both citizens and undocumented migrants, the utter disconnect in who is protected by the law and who is unjustly treated and who is above the law entirely.  State killing is something I’ve not heard much dialogue about since Bush.  I do believe before that there was a pretty successful movement to abolish the death penalty and many states did.  That’s what makes the “federal” part of this particularly horrible.

    As long as the dialogue is about being “tough on crime” versus “bleeding heart liberal,” we’re still feeding into Republican mindlessness.

    I think this is important to write about and you write about it in a way that destroys that useless Republican trick.

  2. is a horrible holdover from a medieval mindset.  I signed; my “personal comment” to the petition may have even been semicoherent (it’s way past my bedtime & I will regret having stayed up in the morning).

    But, ds, you are doing the right thing, and I support your efforts.  Civilized nations do not have death penalties.

    But nobody ever said that the U.S. was a civilized nation.

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