Whether you realize it or not, the District has the death penalty. There is a death penalty case going on right now in federal court, U.S. vs. Larry Gooch. Gooch is the fourth homegrown defendant to face the ultimate punishment since 2001, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office tried gang leader Tommy Edelin. If you’re shocked to federal government would thwart the District’s will, don’t worry—-Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton‘s got your back. If only she knew what she was talking about.
In January, Norton fired off a letter to then-interim U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor protesting his decision to seek the death penalty against Gooch, an alleged gang enforcer.
I write to bring to your attention my concern about the apparent emergence of a new and troubling pattern by your office of repeatedly seeking the death penalty in this strongly anti-death penalty jurisdiction despite consistent failure with juries and the federal courts. Only three death penalty cases here proceeded to trial, all during the current President’s administration, representing a sharp break with predecessor administrations of both parties for nearly 30 years.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs has responded to Norton’s missive with a thorough debunking.
The feds argue that they’ve tried federal cases in numerous other jurisdictions that—-like D.C.—-don’t allow the practice in local courts (Vermont and Michigan, for instance). They also argue that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had attempted to bring the death penalty in several other cases prior to the Bush administration.
Of course, Norton’s words were not her first on the subject. She has waged complaints at the onset of the first two death penalty cases in 2001 (U.S. v. Tommy Edelin et al.) and 2002 (U.S. v. Kevin Gray et al.). Her public outrage spurred the outrage of Judge Royce C. Lamberth, the presiding judge in those death penalty cases. During jury selection in the Gray case on March 26, 2002, Norton’s name came up, which got the judge fuming:
“Well, I wish I could gag her, I’ll tell you. I mean, if I put a gag order on all of you, I think it is highly irresponsible for a member of Congress to intervene like she did here, but she did it in Edelin as well, and she was equally irresponsible in Edelin. The only reason I didn’t publicly admonish her was because I didn’t want to create more publicity. It’s outrageous for a member of Congress to engage in such deplorable conduct, in my view. Threatens the whole judicial system.”