Thursday, June 28, 2007

From the "You Won't Believe This Category" Files

Paul Charlton was one of the eight (that we know of) US Attorneys who were fired by the DOJ. A chart prepared to show the reasons for his firing stated "repeated instances of insubordination, actions taken contrary to instructions,actions taken that were clearly unauthorized, multiple failures to follow AG instructions on the death penalty."

The above email was a result of Charlton's attempting to speak to the AG about a death penalty case where there was no body, just the testimony of a cooperating witness.

From TPM:
Last year, Charlton's office convicted Jose Rios Rico, a methamphetamine dealer who was charged with slaying his supplier. They decided against seeking the death penalty according to a simple rule: while the evidence had been sufficient to convince a jury that Rico was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it was not sufficient to be sure beyond all doubt. Rico had been convicted based on the testimony of cooperating witnesses, despite the lack of forensic evidence (there was no body).

Charlton explained: "This paucity of forensic evidence, evidence that doesn't forget and cannot lie, means, in my opinion, that Rios Rico should not be a death penalty case. If a government seeks to take another person's life it should do so on only the best of evidence."
It's not that prosecutors didn't know where Rico's body was -- it's in a landfill. But it would cost $500,0000 to $1 million to retrieve the body. When Charlton requested that money, the Department refused.

The attorney general's Death Penalty Committee makes the final recommendations in such cases, and so Charlton and his assistant U.S. attorneys sought to convince the committee that a life sentence was more appropriate for Rico. The committee decided against them. Instead, Charlton received a letter from the attorney general "authorizing" (read: ordering) him to seek the death penalty. Under John Ashcroft, Charlton says, he would have received notification of the disagreement before receiving such an "authorization."

The pattern was to continue. Charlton sought a reconsideration of the committee's decision. And here things went downhill:

"My most memorable discussion took place with Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. After speaking with McNulty, I received a call from his chief of staff, Mike Elston. Elston indicated that McNulty had spoken to the Attorney General and that McNulty wanted me to be aware of two things. First, that McNulty had spent a significant amount of time on this issue with the Attorney General, perhaps as much as 5 to 10 minutes. Second, McNulty wanted me to know that in presenting my view, he, McNulty, had remained neutral, neither supporting nor opposing my position. I was struck that on an issue as important as whether to execute someone, so little time would be devoted to the topic and that the Deputy Attorney General would maintain a neutral position. Elston reported that the Attorney General remained in favor of seeking the death penalty."

Charlton asked Elston if he could speak directly with the attorney general, a request memorialized in an email, dated August 15, 2006. It's from Elston to Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff and Sampson's reply.

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