For the Berkshire Eagle.
Posted by Lisa at February 09, 2003 12:33 PM | TrackBack
Attorney General John Ashcroft has a thing about killing people. He has ordered U.S. attorneys in New York, Connecticut and Vermont to seek the death penalty for defendants in 13 cases where they had not been inclined to pursue it. The 13 cases in the Northeast represent nearly half the 28 cases where the attorney general has exercised his authority to order a death penalty prosecution. A Justice Department spokeswoman says the attorney general wants to make sure the federal death penalty statute is applied "in a consistent and fair manner across the country," so that there is not "one standard in Georgia and another in Vermont."
Mr. Ashcroft's monomaniacal focus on the death penalty also threatens to undermine the effectiveness of federal prosecutors. In one Brooklyn case, Mr. Ashcroft rejected a plea bargain for a man who offered to cooperate with prosecutors against his co-defendants in a murder and drug trafficking case in return for a recommendation that his life be spared. The plea deal is a prosecutor's most powerful tool for cracking a conspiracy -- it turns a co-conspirator into a witness. In this case, defense lawyers had a signed agreement with a federal prosecutor, approved by his immediate superior, which was rejected by Mr. Ashcroft. Now they must go to trial without their star witness.
Mr. Ashcroft, a devout conservative, says he is for states' rights but when it comes to the death penalty there is no more ardent federalist. "States do not have the option of opting out of federal death penalty law any more than they had the option of opting out of civil rights laws in the 1960s," an unidentified senior Justice Department official told the Washington Post. Funny he should mention civil rights. Of the 23 people now on federal death row, 17, or 74 percent, are non-whites, a figure that exactly mirrors the percentage of non-whites among defendants approved for a capital prosecution since the federal death penalty took effect. Racial bias is one of many reasons the death penalty has fallen into disrepute nationwide.
John Ashcroft, however, doesn't care about the bias and failings of the death penalty or what the people of New York or New England think. He doesn't mind casting conservatism aside when it suits him. This man who swore to a Senate that foolishly confirmed him in his post that he would not let his personal prejudices influence his judgments has been carried away by blood lust.