U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday the government would seek the death penalty against a man accused of driving a truck found with dead undocumented immigrants near Victoria, the Houston Chronicle reports. It’s the first time capital punishment will be sought in a human-smuggling case.
Truck driver Tyrone Williams, 32, a Jamaican immigrant from Schenectady, N.Y., is accused of driving a sealed tractor-trailer crammed with more than 74 undocumented immigrants, 19 of whom died. It is one of the largest instances of smuggling fatalities in U.S. history.
The decision also means that Williams’ case will be severed from the trial of eight other members of an alleged immigrant-smuggling ring who are charged in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle said the reasons for seeking the death penalty were in a sealed motion filed with the court.
“All I can say is that this has been part of a very deliberate process,” DeGabrielle said.
Williams must be found guilty in the first phase of a jury trial of recklessly putting the lives of the immigrants in jeopardy before prosecutors can seek the death sentence in a second phase.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez, lead prosecutor in the Williams case, said aggravating factors include accusations that Williams knowingly created a grave risk of death for the immigrants who survived, committed an offense in a cruel or depraved manner by causing the serious abuse of victims, and that his alleged victims were vulnerable due to age, youth or infirmity.
Of 14 people indicted on charges in June in connection with the smuggling deaths, nine are in custody and five are at large.
Ashcroft decided late last year not to seek the death penalty against six of of those in custody. Two others were not eligible for the death penalty.
The case is one of the few in which a congressman has lobbied the Justice Department to seek the death penalty. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, sent a letter to Ashcroft last month urging him to make an example of Williams by seeking the harshest penalty.