Boston Herald
 October 17, 2004 Sunday

 AG death-penalty push add$ up to trouble
 By J.M. Lawrence

 Attorney General John Ashcroft's four-year push for more federal 
 executions is costing taxpayers record amounts while two out of three 
 federal juries have refused to give killers the needle.

 ``It's hugely expensive and he's not getting much bang for his buck,'' 
 said attorney Kevin McNally of the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel.

 A record 65 federal defendants are now awaiting death-penalty trials, 
 including two gang members in Massachusetts accused of killing rival 

 A federal capital trial costs taxpayers about $1 million per case in 
 defense expenses and $1.5 million per case in prosecution costs, according 
 to experts.

 Ashcroft's predecessor Janet Reno's all-time high was 39 alleged killers 
 facing federal death trials. Reno also accepted far more guilty pleas 
 resulting in life sentences - and less costly cases - than Ashcroft, 
 records show.

 A Justice Department spokesman said the AG's push for capital cases stems 
 from a commitment to enforce federal law in all states, including 12 
 without the death penalty.

 Studies show the federal death penalty - which was enacted in 1988 and 
 expanded in 1994 to include murder during carjackings and murder for hire 
 - previously was used mostly in Texas, Virginia, Missouri and Georgia. Of 
 32 inmates on federal death row, 19 were sentenced to death in those 

 ``Federal law is federal law. It ought to be applied uniformly across the 
 country. We should not have differing standards in one part of the country 
 versus another,'' said DOJ spokesman Mark Corallo.

 Yet the AG's campaign for more death cases nationwide comes as public 
 support for executions is waning amid revelations of innocent and wrongly 
 convicted people. A majority of Americans still backs execution, but the 
 percentage has fallen from 80 percent in the 1960s to 64 percent now.

 Of the last 34 federal death cases tried, only 11 resulted in verdicts for 
 execution. In Virginia, for example, the Justice Department is 0-6 in its 
 effort to win death verdicts.

 Upon taking office, the AG rejected DOJ policy that had given greater 
 deference to local prosecutors' views on which defendants should face a 
 death trial. Ashcroft so far has required death trials for 41 defendants 
 in cases where federal prosecutors did not seek death, according to 

 Corallo said the Justice Department's poor record in winning executions, 
 however, doesn't matter when the ultimate goal is fair law enforcement. 
 ``At the end of the day, it's up to the juries,'' Corallo said.

 The added death trials, however, are wreaking havoc with the judiciary's 
 budget for paying court-appointed defense teams. ``It's just killing us,'' 
 said one administrator.

 The U.S. Judicial Conference was unable last week to compile exact figures 
 for spending on defense attorneys in capital cases.

 The costs for experts alone in death-penalty cases can be staggering.

 In Boston, the government spent $111,997.18 last year for a psychologist 
 who examined triple killer Gary Lee Sampson and testified he is not 
 mentally ill.

 Jurors delivered a verdict for the execution of Sampson. The government 
 rejected his offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence.