Judge declares death penalty law unconstitutional

Print More

(Host) The federal judge for Vermont says the federal death penalty law is unconstitutional. The ruling came in the case of a man accused of killing a Clarendon woman two years ago.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) U.S. District Judge William Sessions says the way Congress wrote the federal death penalty law doesn’t provide constitutional due process protections.

The judge on Tuesday said recent Supreme Court decisions have forced courts to re-examine how the death penalty is applied. He said the federal death penalty statute doesn’t allow defendants and their lawyers to cross-examine witnesses before the penalty is applied.

The judge’s ruling came in the case of 22-year old Donald Fell, who allegedly murdered Teresca King two years ago. Burlington lawyer Paul Volk represents Fell.

(Volk) “According to ruling Judge Sessions issued, the federal death penalty law is unconstitutional. Congress has to fix it. And Mr. Fell is not subject to the death penalty.”

(Dillon) Judge Sessions ruling only directly affects the Vermont case. But criminal lawyers said similar arguments are now likely to be raised in many other cases around the country, including the death penalty charges facing September 11 suspect Zacarias Mousaoui.

Peter Hall, the U.S. attorney for Vermont, said it’s likely the government will appeal.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Related Link:
Text of Judge Session’s Decision from U.S. District Court/Vermont Web site

Comments are closed.