“Alleged Killer, Proven Killer” (11/22), by Eddie Dean, provided a rare glimpse into the death-penalty record and preoccupation of Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert. The article successfully conveys many ironies, including that of Prince William County Police Chief Charlie Deane’s pleading with the shooter to turn himself in, while sharing the stage with Ebert suggesting that he would seek the death penalty. The piece also points out how justice is just a little different west of the Potomac.
I’m not so sure, as Dean claims, that the so-called experts were impressed with the Beltway snipers. But had, for example, Chief Charles Moose acknowledged their skill, it might have more quickly opened up a dialogue that might have brought the tragedy to a close sooner.
Additionally, the death-penalty stats on Ebert are not adequately contextualized. For example, the article does not mention the contributing factors to a “successful” death-penalty conviction, such as the skill (or lack thereof) of the defendant’s attorney, the accused’s prior criminal history, and so forth.
Finally, in the United States, prosecutors ultimately reflect the will of the people of the local jurisdiction. It may just be that, on the whole, residents (or juries, for that matter) of Prince William county prefer the death penalty as the most appropriate sanction, and no matter who occupied the position of state’s attorney, the outcome would generally be the same.
Division of Criminology,
Criminal Justice and Social Policy
University of Baltimore