I’m told that Reno and Holder laid out for Clinton four basic options and the rationale for each: (1) to proceed with the execution; (2) to impose a moratorium; (3) to commute Garza’s sentence on the grounds that the jury that convicted him was not told it could have imposed a sentence of life in prison without possibility of release. Although the law did not require at that time that the jury be so informed, it now does, and some at Justice thought that sufficient grounds for granting clemency.
The fourth option is what the president finally chose, and what I’m told Holder at least favored: another temporary reprieve until a final report on the racial, ethnic and geographic disparities can be prepared.
Clinton’s statement stayed the execution until June 2001. He said, “I have simply concluded that the examination of possible racial and regional bias should be completed before the United States goes forward with an execution in a case that may implicate the very questions raised by the Justice Department’s continuing study. In this area there is no room for error.”
He asks the attorney general (whoever he or she may be) to report to the president by next April on the results of the analysis.
In some respects the decision is classic Clinton in that it pleases virtually no one. Those who have been urging a moratorium are disappointed; some of them, including civil rights leaders Joseph Lowery and Julian Bond, met this morning and expressed their displeasure to Reno and Holder.
Garza’s champions cannot be assuaged by the pyrrhic victory of escaping execution at Clinton’s hands only to be delivered (apparently) to Bush’s tender mercies. They cannot be optimistic the latter would grant clemency that the former eschewed. And finally, closure is put off yet again for the families of Garza’s several victims.
Beverley Lumpkin covers the Justice Department for ABCNEWS. Halls of Justice appears every Friday.