Gonzales set to get new power to oversee death penalty
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could see his influence over death penalty decisions increase under new regulations expected to be approved soon by the Justice Department, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Implementing a "little-notice provision in last year's reauthorization of the Patriot Act," the Justice Department rules give Gonzales authority that had previously been held by federal judges to decide whether states are providing adequate council for defendants in death penalty cases, according to the Times.
"The move to shorten the appeals process and effectively speed up executions comes at a time of growing national concern about the fairness of the death penalty, underscored by the use of DNA testing to establish the innocence of more than a dozen death row inmates in recent years," reports Richard B. Schmitt in the Times Tuesday.
On the same day the Times story appeared, Gonzales addressed the Fraternal Order of Police National Conference in Louisville, Ky. Although the attorney general did not mention his soon-to-expand death penalty influence, he did invoke his nephew's service in Iraq.
"Recently, some in the media have questioned how I deal with the recent challenges in the Department. It's simple. You see I have a nephew stationed in Iraq. I visited with him on Saturday and we talked about his challenges," Gonzales said. "Yes, I face criticism, but he faces bullets. I sleep comfortably in my own bed next to my wife. My nephew sleeps with his buddies in a converted meat packing building."
Gonzales has faced withering criticism from Congress over his role in firing nine US Attorneys last year and a host of other scandals. In Louisville, Gonzales joked about his and other administration officials' frequent appearances before congressional committees investigating his conduct.
"And as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted, 'In Washington, most of my public remarks tend to begin with someone asking me to raise my right hand,'" Gonzales said.
Among the topics that have come up during Gonzales appearances in hearing rooms on Capitol Hill was his handling of a previous death penalty case. TPM Muckraker revisits an exchange between Gonzales and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican.
Specter and Gonzales sparred over the Justice Department's decision to overrule a federal prosecutor who decided not to seek the death penalty for Rios Rico, who had been convicted of murder in Arizona. The US Attorney overseeing the case previously, Paul Charlton, testified that deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and Gonzales had deliberated on the case for "five to 10 minutes" before deciding to seek the death penalty.
Gonzales said he could not recall anything about the case of his discussions with McNulty about it.
"Well, Mr. Attorney General, I'm not totally unfamiliar with this sort of thing," Specter chided Gonzales. "When I was district attorney of Philadelphia, I had 500 homicides a year. I didn't allow any assistant to ask for the death penalty that I hadn't personally approved. And when I asked for the death penalty, I remembered the case."