New bill would permit prosecutors to enlist second jury in death penalty cases

Eric’s Law would permit federal prosecutors impanel a second jury for death penalty sentencing if the first jury does not reach a unanimous decision.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey last week joined three colleagues in introducing Eric’s Law, a bill that would permit federal prosecutors in death penalty cases to impanel a second jury for sentencing if the first jury fails to reach a unanimous decision.

The other cosponsors are Sens. Tom Cotton, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

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 in 2013.

At the time he took Williams’ life, the inmate was already serving a life sentence for murder. Although a federal jury found the prisoner guilty of the crime, the inmate received essentially no additional punishment because one juror out of 12 would not vote for a death penalty sentence.

“Officer Eric Williams’ life was senselessly cut short by a violent gang assassin. His murderer essentially received no punishment for his crime, even though 11 out of 12 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,” Toomey said. “I hope my colleagues will swiftly consider this important piece of legislation so no other families have to see violent criminals avoid justice.”

The bill is modeled after state laws in California and Arizona.

Eric’s Law is endorsed by AFGE Council of Prison Locals 33, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the Voices of JOE. ••