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November 12, 2006

The federal death penalty in America's paradise

I often think of Hawaii as America's paradise (perhaps in part because my only time there was for my honeymoon).  But this fascinating article about the federal death penalty in Hawaii from the Honolulu Advertiser is a reminder of all the trouble there can be even in paradise.  Here are some snippet from a great piece that is today's must-read:

Justice Department officials have overruled federal prosecutors here and authorized seeking the death penalty for an Army soldier in a move critics say is part of a nationwide attempt by the Bush administration to spread capital punishment to non-death-penalty states.  Naeem Williams, charged with murdering his 5-year-old daughter last year, is believed to be the first in the country to face the death penalty under a provision passed by Congress three years ago for first-degree murder cases involving "a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Hawai'i recommended against seeking capital punishment for Williams and his wife, Delilah, who is also charged with the murder, according to sources familiar with the case who do not want to be identified because the recommendation is considered confidential. The Justice Department went along with the recommendation for the 21-year-old wife, but U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who must approve federal death penalty prosecutions, authorized seeking capital punishment for the husband.

That move is part of a trend under the Bush administration to seek the death penalty in Hawai'i and 11 other states that don't have capital punishment, some critics of the death penalty believe. Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft authorized 180 death penalty prosecutions, including 51 cases in which the local U.S. attorney's office did not recommend capital punishment, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, a national information clearinghouse for court-appointed defense lawyers in federal death-penalty cases.  Fourteen of the 51 cases are from non-capital-punishment states, said Kevin McNally, a Kentucky lawyer with the project....

The death-penalty prosecution will be unusual for Hawai'i, which abolished capital punishment in 1957.  Sporadic attempts to revive it have never gotten far in the state Legislature, and Hawai'i remains one of 12 states that do not have capital punishment. Congress, however, has authorized the death penalty throughout the country for federal crimes, starting in 1988 for drug kingpins. The law was expanded in 1994 to cover other offenses, such as murder for hire and murder of government officials. The provision involving a pattern of abuse and torture of children was added in 2003....

Naeem Williams was initially charged by the military, but when the case was transferred to federal prosecutors in August last year, [U.S. Attorney] Kubo said Naeem and Delilah Williams were the first in the country prosecuted under the new law involving torture and abuse of a child.  Kubo said he does not know if there are currently any similar prosecutions in the country. Spokeswoman Blomquist of the Justice Department said those statistics are not readily available.

November 12, 2006 at 07:43 AM | Permalink


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It appears that federal jurisdiction is territorial -- the murder happened on a military base. It's not like carjacking where the federal government takes a traditional purely state crime and redefines it to be federal. I'm hoping five Supreme Court justices decide enough is enough and impose a new constitutional rule saying that the punishment for an interstate commerce crime has to fit the harm to interstate commerce (e.g. the chance that somebody in another state was going to buy the stolen car) rather than the incidental intrastate consequences (e.g. that somebody died while the car was being stolen).

Posted by: John Carr | Nov 12, 2006 6:35:39 PM

The link to the article in the blog post is dead. Just thought you'd like to know.

Posted by: Student | May 5, 2007 3:24:06 PM

Hi. Nice to see an honest attempt at presenting some well researched information. Had a nice time reading. Keep up the good work,

Posted by: adipex diet pills | Mar 22, 2010 4:05:32 PM

so when is willams penalty?

Posted by: keshia | Sep 15, 2010 5:27:36 PM

Naeem Williams' trial is set to start in late January 2011.

Posted by: HI50 | Jan 11, 2011 2:49:11 AM

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