Jeff Sessions authorizes death penalty against gang member accused of killing rivals

Jeff Sessions.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated that the Justice Department would be more aggressive in pursuing the death penalty under President Trump than under former President Barack Obama by authorizing federal prosecutors to seek capital punishment against Billy Arnold, who is accused of killing two rival gang members in Detroit, The Wall Street Journal reports. Michigan banned the death penalty at a state level in 1847, although it can still be sought at a federal level, the Detroit Free Press writes. Former Justice Department officials said the gang-on-gang violence case likely wouldn't have been authorized for capital punishment under Obama, who oversaw just two death-penalty gang cases while in office.

The decision regarding Arnold, who has pleaded not guilty, follows Sessions' first death-penalty authorization in December, in a case involving a Tennessee man who abducted and murdered his wife. The Justice Department is poised to potentially make three more authorizations soon, against the man accused of killing eight people in Manhattan by driving a truck into a bike lane and against two members of the MS-13 gang accused of killing two teenage girls on Long Island.

Just 2 percent of death-penalty cases end up being sentenced in federal court, The Wall Street Journal notes. The Obama administration ultimately sought the death penalty in an estimated four dozen cases, with former Attorney General Eric Holder personally opposing capital punishment and his successor, Loretta Lynch, deeming it an "effective penalty."

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A recent federal review of execution drugs also slowed down the use of the death penalty. Since 1963, just three federal defendants have been executed. Across the country, support for capital punishment has fallen to a 45-year low of just 55 percent of Americans considering it a favored punishment for convicted murderers.

Read more about how the Trump administration is pursuing the death penalty at The Wall Street Journal.

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