Clinton to Stay Execution of Federal Prisoner

July 10, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON DC – The first federal execution in nearly four decades, scheduled for August 5, will be postponed by President Clinton so that the condemned man can apply for clemency under pending new guidelines. On Friday, White House spokesman Jake Siewert told reporters that Clinton will stay the upcoming execution of Juan Raul Garza, the first federal execution since 1963, so that the president will have time to review new Justice Department clemency guidelines that are expected to be released within the next week.

Garza was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to death for ordering three men killed to further his control over a marijuana-smuggling organization based in Texas. “The president wants to make sure that Mr. Garza has a full opportunity to submit a request for clemency, and that the president, himself, has an opportunity to review that matter completely,” Siewert said. “Given that time line, we expect the president will stay Mr. Garza’s sentence to make sure that process has an opportunity to play itself out.”

Death penalty opponents say Garza was prosecuted under outdated capital-case standards and the government violated his rights under international law by introducing four unsolved murders in Mexico during the sentencing phase.

In addition to updating clemency procedures, the Justice Department has also been studying whether race and geographic location are factors in determining who is sentenced to die by the federal government. More than half of the federal cases in which the death penalty was sought, since capital punishment was expanded in 1994, have been in 12 southern states, according to a New York Times report. A Justice Department official said on Friday there were 20 federal death-row inmates, of whom 14 are black, four are white, one is Asian and one is Hispanic.

Although Clinton reiterated his support for the death penalty, the ACLU said it is clear that he is responding to growing pressure, from both sides of the political spectrum, to confront issues of fairness in the way the death penalty is applied. “Even the most committed supporters of capital punishment are being forced to concede that this country’s system is riddled with problems, including racial bias and incompetent legal counsel,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project.

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