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Lawyer Wants Death for Own Client

July 9, 1998

PHOENIX (AP) _ Many convicted killers don’t have the kind of warm feelings for their court-appointed lawyers that Douglas Alan Smith has for his. But most defense attorneys wouldn’t do what Jamie McAlister is doing for Smith.

She’s trying to get him executed.

Smith, 34, was convicted in April of fatally beating 68-year-old Samuel Ambrose in 1995. Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 25 years to life.

Smith says he would rather die than spend the rest of his life in prison. He claims to suffer from painful seizures _ a form of epilepsy in which the brain can deteriorate into a vegetative state _ that would make life in prison unbearable.

Ms. McAlister has agreed to help him.

``When my client has made a careful, rational, legal decision, I have an obligation,″ she said.

Other attorneys said Ms. McAlister’s actions are outrageous.

The head of the county Public Defender’s Office removed Ms. McAlister as Smith’s attorney three weeks ago, saying the idea of a defense attorney helping a client get the death penalty was ``disturbing and unacceptable.″

Ms. McAlister then resigned as an assistant public defender to enter private practice. At Smith’s request, she was reassigned to his case.

Ms. McAlister filed a court motion three weeks ago to convince Superior Court Judge Bernard Dougherty that Smith deserved to die. She called Ambrose’s slaying ``especially cruel.″

``He was beaten over and over with anything defendant could grab _ bottles, vases, what-have-you. Samuel sustained a torrential rain of blows, 60-plus by one count. He had time to feel fear and terror,″ Ms. McAlister said.

The judge denied the request, but the attorney reversed field and asked for a hearing seeking the shortest sentence possible for Smith. The hearing is set for Aug. 14.

Smith and Ms. McAlister said they may ask the judge to reconsider his ruling on the death penalty. They also plan to appeal Smith’s conviction.

``My life has absolutely no meaning,″ he said. ``I can add this tiny bit of purpose to it by going ahead with the death penalty rather than slowly deteriorating in prison.″

Smith ended a news conference with Ms. McAlister on Wednesday by opening his arms as wide as his handcuffs would allow and giving her a hug. He called her a ``sweetheart″ in a Texas drawl before guards led him back to his cell.

``I think his attorney’s killing him, literally and figuratively,″ said Tom Thinnes, a Phoenix defense attorney. ``I think the lawyer needs to say, `Just a minute, this isn’t in your interest, and if you want to pursue this you have to do it with someone else.‴

Deputy County Attorney Juan Martinez also has concerns about Ms. McAlister’s role.

``Just because a defendant wishes to die doesn’t make a sentence of death appropriate. The state is not in the business of assisting in suicide,″ he said.

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