Jurors in a closely watched federal death penalty case in Puerto Rico acquitted the two defendants Thursday, elating many islanders who had bitterly accused the Justice Department of callously betraying their culture and constitution, which outlaws capital punishment, reports the New York Times.
The jury acquitted the men, Joel Rivera Alejandro and Héctor óscar Acosta Martínez, of all charges after three days of deliberation. They were accused of shooting to death a grocery store owner in February 1998 after kidnapping him and not receiving the $1 million ransom they demanded.
Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the department has been seeking the death penalty more often and in more places than earlier administrations had, and officials in Washington regularly override local recommendations not to seek the death penalty.
Puerto Rico abolished capital punishment in 1929 and has not had an execution since 1927. Polls also have found that much of the heavily Catholic population opposes the death penalty.