[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----NORTH DAKOTA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 2 23:09:23 CST 2004
Death penalty/Not for Rodriguez -- or anyone
The holiday season will be forever changed for the family of Dru Sjodin,
the effervescent young woman who was kidnapped and killed a year ago last
week. There's no overstating the heartbreak her loved ones have endured --
from her disappearance to the discovery of her remains last spring. Yet as
terrible as this crime was, pursuing execution of the alleged murderer
will do nothing to advance justice. Quite the contrary.
Alfonso Rodriguez, a compulsive sex offender unwisely released from prison
just months before Sjodin's disappearance, is the accused in this grim
case. The crime with which he's charged is lamentably common, but the
conduct of his trial is likely to be anything but. That's because former
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft used the Rodriguez case to indulge his
zeal for execution as one of his last acts in office: Since the defendant
apparently drove from North Dakota to Minnesota in the course of his
alleged crime, Ashcroft had cause to press prosecutors to pursue the
federal death penalty in the case.
This edict puts North Dakota -- the jurisdiction in which Rodriguez will
be tried -- in an odd spot. Having abolished capital punishment decades
ago, the state could soon be forced to push for a penalty it has long
deemed inhumane -- and for the 1st federal execution in its history. The
same would be true had the decision been made to charge Rodriguez in
Given the federal courts' longtime stance that it's up to states to
determine how criminals within their borders should be punished, this
high-handed intrusion by the Justice Department is hard to figure. But
since 2001, Ashcroft & Co. have pressed U.S. attorneys to seek the death
penalty whenever possible.
Pursuit of capital punishment in the Rodriguez case seems nearly whimsical
-- for its justification rests entirely on an alleged 25-mile car trip
that crossed a state border -- an episode that wouldn't have occurred had
the driver aimed his car in any direction but east. That happenstance
raises a basic question of fairness: What is it about venturing from one
state to another that makes an alleged murderer a better candidate for
execution than a cellmate accused of committing the same crime in his own
Such "geographical" inequity is but one sort that besieges the federal
death penalty. Like its many state counterparts, federal capital
punishment is by no means an equal-opportunity sentence: It is meted out
almost exclusively to the penniless and dull-witted, to the emotionally
disturbed and to inmates of color. Indeed, a U.S. Justice Department study
several years back found that use of the federal penalty reflects the very
disparities that taint state death-penalty cases. Between 1995 and 2000,
said the report, a shocking 80 percent of cases submitted by federal
prosecutors for death-penalty review involved minority defendants.
Just as telling is the tale of prosecutors' willingness to withdraw the
threat of execution in exchange for a guilty plea. According to the
Justice Department, such plea agreements were made with 48 percent of
white defendants between '95 and 2000 -- but with only about one-fourth of
nonwhite defendants. And as is typical for state capital-punishment cases,
racial imbalance was reflected not only in the color of culprits, but in
the race of victims as well.
All in all, says the Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, federal
prosecutors have been 3 times more likely to seek execution for black
defendants accused of killing whites than for blacks charged with killing
nonwhites. And of defendants charged with federal capital crimes and
ultimately put to death, 90 % were convicted killers of whites.
This detail becomes all the more remarkable when one contemplates that
half of America's murder victims are African-American. Thus society's most
beleaguered citizens suffer disproportionate violence not only on the
nation's darkest streets, but also in its stifling death chambers.
Subjecting a convicted killer to a state-sponsored execution would be
profoundly wrong even if some brand of "equality" in its imposition could
be guaranteed. As most other nations have realized, civilized people do
not conduct such horrific rituals. But America has a few extra reasons to
oppose the death penalty -- and especially the federal version: It's
racist. It's capricious. It obliges states that have forsworn the death
penalty to forsake their values at the federal government's behest.
These are just a few reasons why Alfonso Rodriguez must not be executed --
if ever it's determined he did kill Dru Sjodin. In this society, justice
is not meant to be synonymous with revenge. It is, instead, a principle
that demands that society show itself to be unswervingly good and fair.
Justice calls for granting the humanity of all, for declining to brutalize
even the most brutal of murderers -- and certainly for shunning any
punishment so cruel and crooked as death.
(source: Editorial, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
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