Federal Judge Blasts Ashcroft Over Death Penalty

Meet U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson, appointed to the federal bench in 1994 after a long career as a tough prosecutor. Among his convictions was that of John Gotti. So, hardly your liberal judge. Gleeson presided over the recent Flatbush trial of a crack dealer and murderer in which Ashcroft had overruled the local prosecutors and insisted on seeking the death penalty. The jury returned a verdict of life. Gleeson denounces Attorney Ashcroft's death penalty push in a law review article in the Virginia Law Review:

He said Mr. Ashcroft's policy has the effect of "undermining the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes," saying it may well lead to acquittals of heinous criminals by juries anxious to be certain of avoiding the death penalty.

Worse, he wrote, when Mr. Ashcroft's policy is applied in cases involving criminals who made agreements with prosecutors to cooperate in exchange for leniency, other criminals may end up going free. Who, he said, will help prosecutors make their cases if that path may end with a lethal injection?

"For the sake of seeking the death penalty in a few more federal cases," Judge Gleeson wrote, "significant numbers of murderers and other criminals can elude investigation and prosecution, and thus remain at large, free to commit further crimes."

In his article, in the November issue of the law review, he wrote that Mr. Ashcroft's policy would probably demoralize prosecutors who believe they know their cases better than Washington officials. He said it would drain their resources because death penalty trials are costly in time and money.

He said Mr. Ashcroft's policy failed to take account of the fact that local federal prosecutors understand attitudes in their districts, including those about the death penalty. He said the attorney general should defer when local United States attorneys recommend against capital punishment

...some former federal prosecutors said Judge Gleeson's article put into words criticisms of Mr. Ashcroft's death penalty policies that many federal prosecutors are afraid to make publicly.

Judge Gleeson is a tough sentencing judge who has the respect of the law enforcement community--and the ear. Let's hope they are listening.

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