Washington, D.C.-Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today introduced Eric's Law, a bill that aims to deliver justice to victims and their families in federal death penalty cases. The legislation would permit prosecutors to impanel a second jury for sentencing if the first jury fails to reach a unanimous sentencing decision.
Eric's Law is named for Eric Williams, a federal correctional officer who was savagely murdered by an inmate at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Wayne County, Pa. in 2013. At the time he took Officer Williams' life, the inmate was already serving a life sentence for murder. Although a federal jury found the prisoner guilty of this brutal crime, the inmate received essentially no additional punishment because one juror out of twelve would not vote for a death penalty sentence.
"Officer Eric Williams's life was senselessly cut short by a violent gang assassin. His murderer essentially received no punishment for his crime, even though eleven out of twelve jurors voted for the death penalty, because he was already serving a life sentence. The lack of any consequence in this case highlights a flaw in our justice system that this legislation will address," said Senator Toomey. "I hope my colleagues will swiftly consider this important piece of legislation so no other families have to see violent criminals avoid justice."
"It's disturbing that the man who murdered Officer Williams escaped punishment. Eric's Law will protect against such a gross miscarriage of justice and allow more hardened criminals to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Senator Cotton.
"Federal law provides for the penalty of death in the most severe crimes, including those involving the vicious murder of law enforcement officers and prison guards like Eric Williams," said Senator Cornyn. "This legislation will help keep our communities safe and give federal prosecutors the option to empanel a second jury to decide the ultimate penalty if the first panel cannot reach a unanimous decision."
"I am proud to join Sen. Pat Toomey in introducing Eric's Law," said Senator Cruz. "Officer Eric Williams was violently murdered by an inmate serving a life sentence. At the trial, the jurors did not reach a unanimous sentence, allowing his murderer to essentially go unpunished for his crime. By allowing federal prosecutors to impanel a second jury for the sentencing phase of a federal death penalty case, we can prevent further miscarriages of justice."
Currently, prosecutors cannot impanel a second jury for sentencing if a jury in a federal death penalty case fails to reach a unanimous decision on a sentence. Instead, the judge must impose a sentence other than the death penalty. Eric's Law would allow, but not require, prosecutors to impanel a second jury in these instances. The bill is modeled after state laws in California and Arizona.