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Yea: Gov. Rick Perry should be commended for his March 12 decision to commute the death sentence of Robert Smith. It was the first time the governor has commuted a death sentence because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which bans the execution of the mentally retarded. It was a call Perry didn’t necessarily have to make because Atkins does not define mental retardation and leaves much room for interpretation. But even Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, whose office sends more people to death row than any other county in the country, recommended that Smith’s sentence be commuted to life in prison. Also, defense and prosecution experts found that Smith was mentally retarded. There is still much to be settled on this issue, but Perry did a service by approving the commutation and showing the rest of the nation that Texas is following the Supreme Court’s intent in Atkins. Nay: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft made the wrong call on March 15 when he announced the government would seek the death penalty against a truck driver accused of smuggling 74 undocumented immigrants from Mexico into the U.S. � 19 of whom tragically died of heat exhaustion and suffocation in the back of that truck. Tyrone Williams is accused of driving the locked truck found in Victoria loaded with immigrants. But it’s hard to square what Williams is accused of with federal death penalty law. According to 18 U.S.C. �3591D, for federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty, the defendant must “intentionally” engage in an act of violence knowing the act created a grave risk of death to a person. It seems like a stretch to accuse Williams of intentional killings. Unfortunately, the government’s reasons for pursuing the death penalty are filed under seal. They may know something we don’t, but it doesn’t seem that the alleged crime fits the ultimate punishment in this case.

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