Although the death penalty is often described as being reserved for the “worst of the worst” offenders, in practice defendants responsible for many murders are often spared while those who committed arguably lesser offenses are executed. Oscar Veal was a contract killer for a large drug ring and murder-for-hire operation. He was convicted of seven counts of murder and eight counts of racketeering conspiracy. However, in exchange for testimony about a drug organization in Washington, D.C., federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against Veal. According to the prosecutors, “[Veal] willingly and purposely killed seven men, motivated by both greed and the desire to please the other members of this violent gang,” but called his cooperation “extraordinary by any measure,” and recommended a sentence of 25 years in prison. Veal’s attorney cited other examples in which sentences were reduced in exchange for valuable information. Phillip “Crazy Phil” Leonetti, a member of the Philadelphia mob served just 5 years despite a criminal record that included 10 murders, after cooperating with officials. Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, a well-known criminal who cooperated with the government, was sentenced to only 5 years despite his involvement in 19 murders and other crimes.

(J. McElhatton, “A killer deal: Be a star witness, escape execution,” Washington Times, January 14, 2011; DPIC comment). See Arbitrariness and Federal Death Penalty.