Human Rights Watch urged President Bush to halt Tuesday's scheduled federal execution of Juan Raul Garza. Citing continuing concerns over racial and geographic disparities in the application of the federal death penalty, HRW called for a stay of execution until the government can guarantee that race plays no role in the federal death penalty.
"Almost 90 percent of those on federal death row are racial or ethnic minorities," said Allyson Collins, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch. "President Bush should make sure there are no federal executions until he can say definitely that race is not a factor in the federal death penalty."
In September 2000 the Department of Justice released a study revealing that 80 percent of the cases submitted by federal prosecutors for death penalty review involved racial minorities as defendants and fewer than ten percent of federal districts accounted for some 43 percent of prosecutorial recommendations of the death penalty. On June 6, the Justice Department released a new report concluding there is no evidence of intentional "bias" in the administration of the federal death penalty. This conclusion was made despite the lack of statistical research called for in the September study, including an analysis of the pool of potential death penalty cases in which prosecutors could have pursued the death penalty, but chose not to.
Contradicting his own contention that there was no reason to delay scheduled federal executions, Attorney General Ashcroft nonetheless announced when releasing the June 6 report that he had ordered a new comprehensive study on role of race and geography in the federal death penalty system.
"The Attorney General has implicitly acknowledged that the government still does not know why minorities are disproportionately targeted for federal death sentences," said Jamie Fellner, Associate Counsel for Human Rights Watch. "The world is watching to see whether the U.S. will stop the machinery of death at least until it can show its death penalty decisions are color-blind."