[ OUR OPINION ]
Hawaii shouldn’t be
accomplice to killing
DESPITE strange handling of potential death penalty cases across the country, the federal government is charging ahead in its push for executions, even in states such as Hawaii where it is banned. Hawaii's only recourse, although inadequate, is for county prosecutors to refrain from transferring to federal or military court cases with overlapping jurisdiction for the purpose of seeking the death penalty. The Legislature should consider banning such transfers.
The U.S. Justice Department is seeking the death penalty in states where capital punishment is not allowed in state cases.
The U.S. Justice Department historically has avoided seeking the death penalty in Hawaii and the other 11 states where capital punishment is banned. Under the Bush administration, the department chose not to seek the death of drifter Eugene Frederick Boyce III, charged with the murder of a National Parks ranger on the Big Island, because of Boyce's mental impairment.
Earlier this year, Navy Petty Officer David DeArmond entered into a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law. A military jury sentenced the Pearl Harbor sailor to 22 1/2 years in prison.
There is no assurance that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Hawaii will refrain from seeking a defendant's execution. In Massachusetts, which bans capital punishment, federal prosecutors are asking a jury to impose the death penalty on a 44-year-old drifter who killed three men in a car-jacking spree. Federal authorities claimed jurisdiction in the case because of a law that makes car jackings resulting in a victim's death a federal capital offense.
In New York, a Brooklyn man is standing trial in a case in which Attorney General John Ashcroft overruled local federal prosecutors who had recommended against seeking the death penalty. Justice Department officials have said Ashcroft wants a more uniform application of the federal death penalty nationally.
In 1996, then-City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, a proponent of capital punishment, transferred a case of the murder of a Marine to the military because of its "ultimate penalty for the ultimate crime." The four Marines charged in the case accepted plea agreements to escape lethal injection. Current Prosecutor Peter Carlisle has spoken against capital punishment.
Meanwhile, prosecutors are making a mockery of the death penalty in states where it is legal:
>> In Washington state, Gary Leon Ridgway, the Green River Killer, pleaded guilty to strangling 48 people to avoid the death penalty. Under Washington law, the state Supreme Court is required to review every death sentence and consider whether the sentence is "excessive or disproportionate" compared with other cases. How will prosecutors possibly seek death penalties in future cases in that state?
Capital punishment is banned in all industrialized nations except the United States. Transferring cases to federal or military court for the purpose of seeking the penalty would make Hawaii an accomplice to this barbaric practice. Such jurisdictional transfers should be disallowed.
>> In Arkansas, authorities are medicating murderer Charles Singleton so he can be fit to execute. Without medication, Singleton is paranoid and delusional, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that execution of some insane inmates violates the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Last month, the Supreme Court refused to consider Singleton's appeal, allowing his execution to proceed.