Ashcroft: No Death Penalty Race Bias

Umpire Rick Reed (23) laughs with Cleveland Indians pitcher Paul Byrd (36) after snow delayed the baseball game between the Indians and the Seattle Mariners, Friday, April 6, 2007, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) AP

The second federal inmate scheduled to be executed this year saw his chances of delaying that fate dwindle Wednesday, when the Justice Department concluded there is no racial bias in death sentencing.

Juan Raul Garza, a drug lord, is set to die June 19 for committing one murder and planning two others in 1990 and 1991, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.

A concern about possible racial and geographical disparities in federal capital sentences led President Clinton to grant Garza a reprieve in December, 2000, to allow time for a study of whether bias existed.

Just two days ago a civil rights group called the Citizens for a Moratorium on Federal Executions asked President Bush to delay Garza's execution until the study was complete.

Attorney General John Ashhcroft told Congress Wednesday the study showed that "There is no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the federal death penalty,".

That contradicted a September Justice Department report, which found that minorities were considered for the federal death penalty more often than whites, accounting for 74 percent of such cases since 1995.

That study also showed that only nine of the 94 U.S. attorney districts accounted for about 43 percent of all cases that prosecutors called for the death penalty. They were: Puerto Rico, the eastern district of Virginia, Maryland, the eastern and southern districts of New York, western Missouri, New Mexico, western Tennessee and northern Texas.

Of the 21 inmates now on federal death row, 14 are black, three are white and three are Hispanic. One Asian inmate faces resentencing, a Bureau of Prisons spokesman said.

The September study was based on about 700 cases. Ashcroft said the new report was based on an analysis of those 700 cases, plus about 250 additional capital cases.


Click here to learn more about the death penalty in America.

The department found a similar ratio of minorities versus white defendants in the new cases studied.

But Ashcroft maintained that black and Hispanic defendants were in fact less likely to be subjected to the death penalty at each stage of the Justice Department process than white defendants.

He said the Justice Department sought the death penalty for 38 percent of the white defendants, 25 percent of the black defendants and 20 percent of the Hispanic defendants.

Rather than racial bias, differences in state laws, decisions by state prosecutors and geographical factors account for the fact that the majority of defendants facing federal death sentences are minorities, the new study showed.

Ashcroft said he nonetheless would direct a Justice Department unit to begin a long-planned study on how death penalty cases end up in the federal system.

The attorney general said the analysis found "a slight statistical disparity" in ple agreements. As a result, he said the attorney general now must give prior approval before a capital charge may be dropped in a plea deal.

However, Ashcroft did not release the study to Democrats on the House panel he addressed. And a Justice Department spokesperson told CBSNews.com that there was no word on when the report would be made available to the public.

Europe Opposes U.S. Executions
A Council of Europe parliamentary panel on Wednesday suggested dropping the United States and Japan as observers at the organization unless they halt all executions "without delay" and formally repeal the death penalty.

In a report to the parliamentary assembly, the human rights committee said Japan and the United States violate their observer status by sticking to the death penalty.

It set a Jan. 1, 2003 deadline for both countries that start the process of abolition "and institute without delay a moratorium on executions … and to improve immediately conditions on death row."

Rachel King, the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative counsel, said the numbers do not take into account other possible federal death penalty cases. "They have not proven their case. It's a whitewash and an excuse to kill Juan Garza."

Unlike McVeigh, who once expressed a desire to end his appeals and die, Garza has fought his execution tooth and nail.

Garza's attorneys have asked President Bush to commute Garza's sentence to life in prison without a chance for parole. But Mr. Bush supports the death penalty; Texas executed 152 people while he was governor.

Garza's lawyer, Gregory Wiercioch, told CBSNews.com last month, "Our concern is that we hope Mr. Aschroft and President Bush are going to scrutinize Garza's case as closely as they've scrutinized Timothy McVeigh's."

McVeigh is scheduled to be executed June 11 despite the recent handover of 4,000 pages of evidence that had been withheld from his defense team. His would be the first federal execution since Victor Feguer was hanged in Iowa on March 15, 1963, for kidnapping and murder.

After the death penalty was struck down in 1972, the federal death penalty was not reinstated until 1988 and then expanded in 1994 to cover certain crimes including, major drug trafficking, terrorism, and espionage.

In contrast, the states have executed more tha 700 inmates since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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