U.S. attorneys ask death penalty in four killings


Federal prosecutors in Maryland said yesterday that they will seek the death penalty against a Baltimore man accused of killing four people, but not against two brothers charged with employing him as part of a violent West Baltimore drug organization.

The announcement focused on Eric Hall, 35, of Baltimore, who was indicted last year and charged in two killings in Baltimore. Papers filed in U.S. District Court now link Hall to two additional deaths.

"When considering the death penalty, we don't just look at the facts and circumstances alleged in the indictment, but the defendant's entire life history," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said yesterday.

The alleged leaders of the drug organization, Howard and Raeshio Rice, could receive life in prison if convicted when they go to trial in October.

Before seeking the death penalty, the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland makes a recommendation to officials at the Department of Justice. Defense lawyers also have a chance to argue before the Justice Department about why their clients should be spared. The ultimate decision rests with the U.S. attorney general.

In court papers, federal prosecutors justified their decision by pointing to several factors, including Hall's history of assault, weapons possession and illegal drug distribution.

Thomas Saunders, one of Hall's attorneys, declined to comment about the case yesterday.

In Maryland, federal prosecutors last filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the case of Kenneth Jam Lighty, for the killing of Eric L. Hayes II, the son of a Washington police officer. Lighty, who was from Prince George's County, was convicted by a federal jury in Greenbelt on Nov. 10, 2005.

The jury's death sentence was formally imposed by a judge in February.

One other defendant has been sentenced to death in federal court in Maryland since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. On Oct. 6, 2000, Dustin John Higgs received a death sentence for the murders of Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson and Mishann Chinn in 1996. Higgs's conviction was upheld on appeal.

In the most recent case, prosecutors charged Hall in the killings of Dante Green of Woodlawn in 1996 and Marvin Nutter of Baltimore in 2003, according to the indictments. Court papers filed yesterday also accuse him of the killings of Alfonzo Smithson on June 18, 1997, and the murder of Dana Ellerbe on Dec. 27, 1998.

The Rice brothers are attempting to persuade a judge to throw out a new indictment for drug-related killings against them.

Attorneys for the Rices are asking Judge William D. Quarles Jr. to dismiss the pending racketeering charges, saying prosecutors intentionally misled the previous judge about the imminent indictment.

Rosenstein said yesterday that the dispute played no role in the decision not to seek the death penalty against the brothers.


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