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Criminal defense lawyers around the country will be watching Connecticut a bit more closely this fall as the fate of three men will be decided in back-to-back federal death penalty trials. With a growing number of U.S. District Court judges divided on the constitutionality of the federal death penalty statute, defense attorneys say they are anxious to see how the cases will play out over the next several months. On Oct. 7, Luke Jones is set to begin trial for the murder of two Bridgeport, Conn., men related to a crack cocaine ring he allegedly ran in the P.T. Barnum housing project. Following closely behind is a federal death case against Fausto Gonzalez and Wilfredo Perez. The pair are expected to be tried together in January for the 1996 killing of a rival gang member in Hartford. According to the Federal Death Penalty Information Center, based in Washington, D.C., jurors have declined to impose capital punishment in 21 of the last 22 federal jury trials where the death penalty has been sought, opting instead for acquittals or for lesser punishments such as life in prison. “The fact that 21 out of 22 cases resulted in life verdicts and acquittals is significant,” said Richard Reeves, of New Haven’s Sheehan & Reeve, who represents Perez along with partner Michael Sheehan. Robert Casale, a Branford, Conn., solo who represents Jones and is also working with Shelley Sadin of Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in representing Gonzalez, said he is awaiting decisions that could dismiss some or all of the charges against both his clients. Casale said federal judges around the country, including those in Vermont and New York, have recently granted motions to dismiss capital felony murder cases based on due process and other constitutional violations. U.S. District Court Judge Alan H. Nevas is set to preside over the Jones trial, while U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton is handling the case against Gonzalez and Perez. “This is cutting-edge stuff that will further test the reach of federal death penalty statute,” Casale said. “The [U.S. District Court rulings] have suggested that Congress needs to retool this statute to make it constitutionally effective.”

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