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June 21, 2009

"Death penalty decisions loom for Barack Obama"

The title of this post is the headline from this new article at Politico.  Here are excerpts from the start of a lengthy and informative article by Josh Gerstein:

For the first time in his career, President Barack Obama may soon confront one of the most weighty and unsavory decisions that a chief executive must make, whether to put a murder convict to death.

The decision could land on Obama’s desk within a matter of months, due to cases winding their way through the federal courts.  And while Obama is on record supporting the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, that’s a far cry from deciding whether a specific man’s life should be taken or spared.

“The death penalty in the abstract is one thing.  The reality of the death penalty and all of its nasty details is a very different thing,” said Dianne Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty.  “This is something that this president is not the only one to face….  Having seen this thing in practice, you see it as a very different animal.”

Already, with little press attention or protest from the anti-death penalty camp, Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for at least four defendants since Obama took office.  In all, 55 men and two women are on federal death row, death-penalty opponents say.

But the timing of Obama’s first death-penalty decision is likely to be dictated by a case pending in Washington, involving six federal death-row inmates at most imminent risk of execution.  Their sentences were stayed by a federal judge, who is deciding whether to let their executions proceed, despite their challenge to federal execution protocols.

The cases involve three members of a Richmond, Va., gang sentenced to death in 1993 for drug-related murders; two men sentenced to death for abduction, sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-girl; and another man convicted of killing a prison guard.  All six defendants are black.

If the stay is lifted and execution dates are set, any of the men could ask the president to step in. And clearly, death-penalty opponents hope they have a sympathetic ear in Obama, despite his support for the limited use of executions.  They hope he will try to impose more safeguards in federal capital cases, and even spare some prisoners.  And they note that Holder once authored a ground-breaking federal study that found racial disparities in death penalty cases.

June 21, 2009 at 06:09 PM | Permalink


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What a non-story. None of the facts cited in the article suggest that Obama is going to commute or stay any of these death sentences. Obama supports the death penalty and he is well aware of the political crapstorm that would ensue if he started imposing his personal views of the 8th Amendment by fiat (albeit constitutionally permissible fiat).

Gerstein is stuck with the weak insinuation that as a "novice" executive, Obama might get all wishy-washy when it comes to considering a clemency petition, but give me a break. Obama has proven himself to be a decisive guy. (Ask the Somali pirates.) Even if you disagree with every decision he's made, you have to admit that he's not one to cower under the desk when faced with a big decision.

If Obama commutes any of these sentences, I'll eat Supremacy Claus's tinfoil hat.

Posted by: CN | Jun 21, 2009 7:13:14 PM

There are 17,000 extra-judicial executions a year by the lawyer customer. No due process, most by horrific, butchery style methods, many for no apparent reason, or the most trivial of offenses.

The lawyer protects the murderer because it generates lawyer jobs, and $billions in income. The dead murderer generates no lawyer job.

The lawyer then forgets the failure of the primary goal of government protection from vicious, ultra-violent, drunken predators.

I voted for Obama in accordance with the Immutable, Hilarious Law of Political Irony. The Moslem Communist will do the most damage to the lawyer profession, I predicted, as only a Moslem Communist could.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 21, 2009 8:38:56 PM

I agree with CN. Obama will let these criminals be executed. He should.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 21, 2009 9:10:29 PM

Gerstein's seen one too many West Wing episodes.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Jun 22, 2009 9:13:21 AM

Supremacy Clause, put down the crack pipe!

Posted by: Sumter L. Camp | Jun 22, 2009 12:24:09 PM

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