ARBITRARINESS: Woman Faces Federal Death Sentence While Triggerman Receives 17 Years

Donna Moonda (pictured) is facing the federal death penalty in Ohio for hiring a man to kill her husband.  The person who actually shot and killed the victim, Damian Bradford, received a sentence of only 17.5 years in exchange for his testimony against Moonda.  Moonda and Bradford were convicted in separate trials of orchestrating and carrying out the plot to kill Dr. Gulam Moonda in an alledged effort to share his estate. The two defendants met in a drug rehabilitation center. Donna Moonda is now in the sentencing phase of her capital trial, and could receive either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.  Moonda's defense attorneys maintain that Bradford is a thug, womanizer, and a drug dealer, and the state acknowledges that he was the person who killed Dr. Moonda. During the sentencing phase of Moonda's trial, jurors are expected to hear from prison experts who will describe the harsh conditions endured by those serving life in prison without parole.
(Tribune-Chronicle, July 16, 2007).  Update: Ms. Mooda received a life sentence from the jury on July 18, 2007.  See Women, Federal Death Penalty, and Arbitrariness.


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ACLU Releases Report on Racial Disparities in the Federal Death Penalty

The federal death penalty impacts racial minorities differently than it does whites according to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union. The report, The Persistent Problem of Racial Disparities in the Federal Death Penalty, notes that defendants of color make up the majority of the federal death row. And the risk of a case being authorized for the death penalty is 84% higher in cases where the victim is white, regardless of the race of the defendant. The report pointed to earlier Justice Department statistics that showed that almost twice the percentage of white defendants had the possibility of a death sentence being removed through plea bargaining than the percentage of defendants of color.

In light of this evidence, the ACLU called for a moratorium on the federal death penalty and for Congress to conduct a study to examine the racial disparities. The group also recommended passage of a Racial Justice Act to allow capital defendants to use statistics as evidence of racial bias, as well as a law requiring the Department of Justice to report on its implementation of the federal death penalty.

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NEW VOICES: Federal Judge Advises Justice Department to Rethink Death Case

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero recently halted the penalty phase of a federal capital case in Los Angeles and told prosecutors that he believes the U.S. Justice Department should reconsider its decision to seek the death penalty for Petro "Peter" Krylov.  Krylov is facing the death penalty for his role in a kidnapping and murder plot. Otero, the second federal judge this year to urge federal prosecutors and the Justice Department to rethink their decision to seek a death sentence, told prosecutors that Krylov's case is different from the cases against his two co-conspirators, who both received death sentences. "I would hope that the government has enough flexibility that they can address these major significant life-and-death issues to handle circumstances such as what has occurred in this case," Otero told lawyers for both parties while the jury was out of the courtroom. Prosecutors responded that they would share Otero's comments with Justice Department officials, but that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (pictured) had already made the decision to seek death for Krylov.

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NEW RESOURCES: "Trials Under the Military Commissions Act"

Amnesty International has released a new report entitled "Justice Delayed and Justice Denied? Trials under the Military Commissions Act."  This report examines whether proceedings under the revised U.S. Military Commissions Act will comply with international standards, especially when the death penalty is sought.  In particular, it explores the rights of detainees under international human rights law, the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution.
(Amnesty International, "Justice Delayed and Justice Denied? Trials under the Military Commissions Act," March 2007). See Studies and September 11, 2001 Forum.

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Dismissed Federal Prosecutors Were Overridden on Death Penalty Recommendations

Prior to their dismissals, three federal prosecutors whose firings are under scrutiny by Congress were engaged in a struggle with the Justice Department over its expanded pursuit of the federal death penalty. Paul Charlton of Arizona, Margaret Chiara of Michigan, and Kevin Ryan of California were all criticized by Justice officials for failing to seek death sentences as part of a broader use of the federal death penalty begun by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and continued by Alberto Gonzales. As part of the Department's efforts, which included seeking the death penalty in jurisdictions without statues of their own, the Attorney General would override federal prosecutors, and insist that they seek death sentences. Though this happened to Charlton, Chiara and Ryan, it was not cited as a reason for their dismissals. The Justice Department did, however, mention in at least one of their dismissals that they had "no assurance that DOJ priorities/policies [were] being carried out."

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ARBITRARINESS: Oklahoma Case Illustrates Capriciousness of the Death Penalty

An Oklahoma man could be executed or spared based on which side of a gravel road in rural McIntosh County a murder took place. Patrick Murphey, who is borderline-mentally retarded and was drunk at the time of the crime, was originally sentenced to death for the murder in 2000.  His trial attorney failed to notice that the prosecution had made a two-mile mistake in locating the site of the crime. Murphey's second attorney, who spent 11 years as a geologist with Conoco before becoming a federal public defender in Oklahoma City, later located the actual murder site and determined that the crime was committed on a stretch of road given to the Creek Indians by the United States in 1902. A federal law forbids the imposition of the death penalty in such prosecutions unless the relevant tribe's governing body allows it. Murphey is a Muscogee Creek Indian, and his tribe has not consented to seeking a death sentence in the case. Had the murder been committed a few inches away, Oklahoma would have jurisdiction in the case.

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NEW VOICES: Federal Judge Says New York Case is "Absurd" Waste of Time and Money

U.S. District Judge Frederick Block recently told federal prosecutors that pursuing a death sentence for Kenneth McGriff would be an "absurd" waste of time and money.  According to a court transcript, while jurors were on a break during closing arguments of the guilt phase of McGriff's trial, Block advised prosecutors to contact their supervisors in Washington, DC, and ask them to reconsider their decision to seek the death penalty if McGriff is convicted in a contract killing conspiracy. He told prosecutors, "I feel, as an officer, as a judge, that this is an absurd prosecution based upon what I have heard. I think I have a responsibility to let authorities know. ... There's just no chance that 12 jurors will vote for the death penalty in this case, and I think it is good for us to save money, if we can do that, and judicial resources."
UPDATE: The jury's non-unanimous sentencing vote will now result in the judge imposing a sentence of life-without-parole for McGriff.  (N.Y. Times, Feb. 10, 2007).
(Associated Press, January 25, 2007). See New Voices and Federal Death Penalty.

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FEDERAL DEATH PENALTY: Man Receives Life Sentence for Role in Illegal Immigrant Deaths

A federal jury chose a sentence of life without parole for Tyrone Williams (pictured) for his role in a human-smuggling operation that left 19 illegal immigrants dead. In December, the same jurors convicted Williams of 58 smuggling counts, 20 of which carried the death penalty as a sentencing option. Williams, who abandoned about 100 immigrants sealed in his truck's refrigeration trailor after determining that it had become a death trap in 2003, is the third person to face federal capital charges in the Southern District of Texas. Since 1993, U.S. Attorneys from the region have won two death sentences, one against marijuana kingpin Juan Raul Garza for killing three drug traffickers and one against Alfred Bourgeois for the shaking death of his 2-year-old daughter. Garza was executed in 2001.

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