Attorney General Eric Holder must decide whether to seek capial punishment in the cases of six San Francisco Bay area members of the MS-13 gang, reports The Recorder. Where Holder draws the line among the defendants will be one measure of prevailing death penalty attitudes in Washington, D.C., say attorneys involved in the case.
Over the past few weeks, defense lawyers representing some of the accused have ptiched U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello on why their clients don’t deserve to die. U.S. District Judge William Alsup has set a Sept. 15 deadline for the Justice Department to make up its mind. Before becoming attorney general, Holder was critical of racial disparities in death penalty enforcement. And while he has said he is personally opposed to capital punishment, during confirmation he promised to enforce the law. Holder has green-lighted fewer death cases than his Republican predecessors, but he is still authorizing them. He OK’d seven out of 61 eligible death cases last year, or 11 percent, says Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, an organization that assists defense lawyers nationwide. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft — viewed as an aggressive death penalty proponent — authorized 22 percent of 631 cases, while Alberto Gonzales said yes to 19 percent, and Michael Mukasey to 13 percent.