Philadelphia, Pa. - U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and U.S. Representative Fred Keller (Pa.-12) have 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 was killed by a violent gang member while on-duty. His murderer's crime largely went unpunished, even though eleven out of twelve jurors voted for the death penalty, because he was already serving a life sentence," said Senator Toomey. "Our legislation will fix this flaw in our justice system and help ensure no family has to see violent criminals avoid justice."
"Throughout Pennsylvania and the entire country, victims of some of the worst criminal acts have justice denied to them when, as in the case of Eric Williams, a member of a jury will not vote for the death penalty due to a moral or political belief," said Congressman Keller. "Justice denied to one is justice denied to all and we cannot let that stand; and as they say: the punishment must fit the crime. When a jury in a federal death penalty case finds a defendant guilty, but fails to come to a unanimous verdict on the death penalty, there should be an option to review the penalty phase of the trial to give victims and their families the best chance at finding the justice they seek. That's what Eric's law would accomplish."
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.
Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Representatives Mike Bost (Ill.-12), Dan Meuser (Pa.-9), and Glenn Thompson (Pa.-15) are cosponsors of Eric's Law.
The legislation is supported by: