President Barack Obama may soon confront one of the most weighty decisions a chief executive must make, whether to put a convicted murderer to death, reports Politico.com. The decision could land on Obama's desk within a matter of months, as cases wind their way through the federal courts. While Obama is on record supporting the death penalty for heinous crimes, that's a far cry from deciding whether a specific man's life should be taken or spared. Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for at least four defendants since Obama took office. In all, 55 men and two women are on federal death row.
The timing of Obama's first death-penalty decision is likely to be dictated by a pending case involving six federal death-row inmates. Their sentences were stayed by a federal judge, who is deciding whether to let their executions proceed, despite their challenge to federal execution protocols. The cases involve three members of a Richmond, Va., gang sentenced to death in 1993 for drug-related murders; two men sentenced to death for abduction, sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-girl; and another man convicted of killing a prison guard. All six defendants are black. If the stay is lifted and execution dates are set, any of the men could ask the president to step in. Death-penalty opponents hope they have a sympathetic ear in Obama, despite his support for the limited use of executions. They hope he will try to impose more safeguards in federal capital cases, and even spare some prisoners. Holder once authored a ground-breaking federal study that found racial disparities in death penalty cases.