Murder Defendant Seeks 2 Separate Juries
NEW YORK (AP) _ A man facing a federal death penalty trial in a drug gang killing wants two juries _ one to decide if he’s guilty and, if so, a second to decide if he should be executed.
Lawyers for Emile Dixon made the unusual request at a hearing in federal court, saying the selection process for federal capital cases would violate Dixon’s constitutional right to an impartial jury.
Prosecutors argued in court papers that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the federal statute requiring a single jury for trial and sentencing ``absent extraordinary circumstances, which are not present here.″
U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie put off a ruling after a pretrial hearing Friday.
Federal prosecutors said it was not the first time that two juries have been sought for a federal death penalty case, but they could not recall a case in which such a motion was granted.
Dixon’s case initially drew attention when Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered prosecutors to seek the death penalty despite concerns raised by local prosecutors _ and even Ashcroft’s own advisers _ about weaknesses in the case.
Dixon’s lawyers are arguing against the standard practice of picking one ``death-qualified″ jury to hear both the guilt and penalty phases. Death-qualified juries are composed of people who, during jury selection, have said they would be willing to impose capital punishment.
The government says presenting the same case to two juries would waste time and resources.
Defense court papers argue that death-qualified jurors lean toward guilty verdicts and, once they convict, cannot be impartial about punishment.
``It’s fundamentally unfair to do it,″ defense attorney Ephraim Savitt said after Friday’s hearing.
Hundreds of capital-case jurors surveyed for a recent study published in the Brooklyn Law Review often ``ignored, devalued or discredited″ troubles in a defendant’s family background, mental history and other so-called mitigating factors that would favor a life sentence, the defense argued.
A racketeering indictment accuses Dixon of being the leader of a violent gang called the Patio Crew, which peddled cocaine in New York, Virginia and North Carolina. It alleges he wanted to kill the victim to keep him from testifying in an attempted murder case against another Patio Crew member.
The government has admitted that its sole eyewitness twice claimed he could not identify the shooter before changing his story and implicating Dixon. The FBI concluded the same witness embellished his testimony before a grand jury.
Dixon is one of 28 defendants nationwide in cases where the attorney general has ordered death-penalty prosecutions after local prosecutors either recommended against death or did not seek it, according to the Death Penalty Resource Council, a network of capital defense lawyers.
Prosecutors have since argued that the crime Dixon is accused of meets the legal standard for the death penalty because it was premeditated and posed a risk of death to people other than the intended victim.