Ashcroft Loses Big in Puerto Rico

Attorney General John Ashcroft has been trying to shove the death penalty down the throats of jurors all over the United States. He requires prosecutors to ask for it when they know they can’t sell it, or when they have promised a defendant life instead of the possibility of death in exchange for cooperation. Ashcroft can do that, you know, as chief law enforcement officer. But what he cannot do is force juries to swallow the death penalty.

And now, he is 1-19 in cases in which he insisted it be a sentencing option. This time, he got a resounding defeat in Puerto Rico-yea, Puerto Rico. What’s Ashcroft doing trying to bring death to Puerto Rico, whose Constitution forbids it? It is unheard of for a U.S. Attorney General to meddle in the sentencing affairs of a territory like that. But no one does arrogance better than Maximum John (well, maybe his boss, George W., comes pretty close).

As reported in The New York Times, Puerto Rican jurors not only rejected the death penalty, they acquitted the defendants. Perhaps jury nullification was at work here–jurors sending a message to Ashcroft to refrain from trying to subvert their Constitution and community values and to keep his heavy-handed madness he calls justice off their island. Indeed, the jurors sent out a question challenging the federal government’s jurisdiction of the kidnapping-murder charge.

Recall that in the Eastern District of Alexandria recently, Judge Gerald Lee Bruce threw out a jury conviction on a murder-kidnapping charge, finding that the government had brought the specious kidnapping charge in order to acquire federal jurisdiction–and get the death penalty–in what was, at best, a state murder charge.

The jury of seven men and five women cleared the men, Joel Rivera Alejandro and Hector Oscar Acosta Martinez, of all charges after three days of deliberation. Mr. Alejandro and Mr. Acosta Martinez had been accused of shooting to death and dismembering a grocery store owner in February 1998 after kidnapping him and not receiving the $1 million ransom they demanded. The two men were released from federal custody after the acquittal, while several dozen of the men’s relatives wept in the courtroom after the verdicts were read.

According to the Times report, William D. Matthewman, a lawyer for Mr. Acosta Martinez, said last night that the acquittal was a blow to the Justice Department’s attempts to administer the death penalty even in regions that oppose or outlaw it for nonfederal trials. “Imposing the death penalty in Puerto Rico is like pouring oil on one of their beautiful beaches,” Mr. Matthewman said in a phone interview. “It’s unnecessary, and the federal government has been dealt a severe blow in their attempt to nationalize the death penalty.”

Puerto Rico abolished capital punishment in 1929 and has not had an execution since 1927, when a farm worker found guilty of beheading his boss with a machete was hanged. Much of the heavily Catholic population opposes the death penalty on religious and moral grounds.

There is evidence that support for the death penalty is eroding all over the in the States. Many reasons account for this, not the least of which is an increasing awareness that innocent people must have died, given the high rate of exonerations based on DNA evidence. More than 100 innocent men have been released from death row in the past ten years.

President Bush loves the death penalty so much that he and his now White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales barely reviewed the files of condemned Texans before they were executed, a sad tale reported in the July-August issue of Atlantic Monthly. And recall how Bush mocked Karla Faye Tucker’s plea for mercy during his 2000 presidential campaign.

We cannot expect Bush and Ashcroft to use common sense or acquire compassion. We can expect that their arrogance might catch up with them where it matters to their hard hearts–at the polls.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes