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Gunman Could Face Death Penalty

July 25, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If convicted of killing two Capitol police officers, the suspect in Friday’s shootings could face the federal death penalty.

The murder of a federal law enforcement agent is one of about 60 federal crimes that carry a potential death penalty. The shootings are considered a federal crime both because federal officers died and because the shootings took place on federal property.

No one has been charged. The suspected gunman, identified as Russell E. Weston, was in surgery and under guard hours after the shootings.

If convicted of murder and sentenced to die, the gunman would join Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and 13 others condemned under the federal death penalty law.

The federal death penalty statute grew out of a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that declared all state death penalty laws unconstitutional on the grounds they were arbitrarily applied.

In 1988 _ 12 years after the high court allowed capital punishment to resume _ the federal government passed a law allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty in major drug-trafficking cases.

In 1994, Congress expanded the law to include some 60 other crimes, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and murder of a federal law enforcement officer.

Eight federal law officers were among the 168 people killed in the Oklahoma bombing in 1995.

The government built a death row and execution chamber at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., but it is unused.

None of the 14 has been executed.

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