Sen. Cruz Reintroduces Eric’s Law to Ensure Victims, Families, Receive Justice in Federal Death Penalty Cases
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) today reintroduced Eric’s Law, a bill that aims to deliver justice to victims and their families in federal death penalty cases. The legislation would allow prosecutors to impanel a second jury for sentencing if the first jury fails to reach a unanimous decision at a capital sentencing hearing. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) previously sponsored this bill.
Upon introduction, Sen. Cruz said:
“Eric Williams was a federal correctional officer and dedicated public servant who was violently murdered in 2013 during the course of his duties. His family, and his memory, deserve justice, and his killer, who was already serving a sentence for murder at the time he killed Officer Williams, deserves the death penalty. This bill will allow federal prosecutors to impanel a new jury in death penalty cases where the jury is hopelessly deadlocked, which is the rule governing every other federal criminal offense. This will allow for a final, definite decision in death penalty cases, which the families of victims deserve.”
Additional support for Eric’s Law:
Don Williams, President of Voice of J.O.E., said:
“The jury system throughout the United States has always placed its emphasis on a group decision. This is at the very heart of our judicial system. In many cases a unanimous decision of guilt or to acquit is required by the jury before sentencing is passed. This group decision serves as a fundamental safeguard to prevent an aberrant or downright biased decision by a lone juror or a small number of jurors. Under our current system, a lone juror can make a biased decision that becomes irreversible. This is not in keeping with the spirit of our ‘trial by jury’. Eric’s Law allows that, just as in the guilt phase of a trial, during the sentencing phase if a jury deadlocks, the prosecution has the right to retry the case. This allows for a fair and equal system in our courts for the victims' family as it does for the accused.”
Patrick Yoes, the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said:
“Under current Federal law, the murder of a Federal law enforcement officer is a capital offense. However, if the officer’s killer is found guilty of murder and the Federal prosecutor seeks the death penalty in the sentencing phase, the jury must consider and vote on whether to impose it. Unfortunately, the decision of the jury must be unanimous—a single dissenting juror can prevent justice from being served. Federal Bureau of Prisons Correctional Officer Eric Williams was brutally murdered in the line of duty by a violent gang assassin and inmate, but the jury’s vote on the question of capital punishment was not unanimous. This legislation will amend the current law to allow Federal prosecutors to impanel a second jury for the sentencing phase of a Federal capital case if the first jury does not reach a unanimous decision on the sentence. When justice is not served in the murder of a Federal law enforcement officer, it sends a message throughout the ranks of law enforcement that their sacrifice, up to and including the loss of their own life, is meaningless. At a time when law enforcement officers are being targeted with violence, I believe it is important that our nation’s law enforcement officers have confidence that our criminal justice system will deliver justice to those who kill our officers.”
Bill Johnson, the Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said:
“Eric’s Law is critical to ensuring that justice is served in cases where a federal law enforcement officer is murdered. This legislation seeks justice in cases where a jury has not been able to unanimously agree to a sentencing recommendation, by allowing federal prosecutors to petition the court to empanel a second jury for the sentencing phase of a federal capital case. The goal of the legislation is to seek unanimity in sentencing recommendations, whether that recommendation be for capital punishment, life in prison, or a lesser punishment. NAPO thanks Senator Cruz for his leadership on this important bill.”
Shane Fausey, the National President of the National Council of Prison Locals, said:
"The National Council of Prison Locals both applauds and fully supports Senator Cruz's re-introduction of Eric's Law. This essential piece of legislation brings a common sense approach to both Officer safety and the rights of the victims of violent crime. When the most heinous crimes are exacted upon the American people, a commensurate and severe response is necessary to maintain order in society and deter repetitive victimization of the innocent.
“In far too many instances, jury nullification circumvents legislative intent and hijacks the spirit of justice, while re-victimizing the families and victims of violent criminals. The American people deserve better, just as Eric and the Williams Family deserve better."
Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), said:
“In the tragic killing of Eric Williams–a federal Bureau of Prisons correctional officer who was murdered by an inmate–a single juror was able to prevent the defendant from receiving the death penalty. In capital cases, a second jury should be empaneled to ensure the proper punishment is well considered and provided for these defendants. Eric’s Law will allow this and ensure the full weight of the justice system can be brought to bear against some of our nation’s most dangerous criminals, particularly those that target law enforcement. We applaud Senator Cruz for leading the effort on this legislation.”
Letters of endorsement for Eric's Law:
The bill is named in honor of Eric Williams, a federal correctional officer who was brutally murdered by an inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary, Caanan in Wayne County, Pa. in 2013. The inmate was already serving a life sentence for murder when he murdered Officer Williams. A jury found the prisoner guilty of murder, however the inmate received no additional punishment for this inhumane crime because one out of 12 members of the jury refused to vote for a death penalty sentence. Eric’s Law would allow, but not require, prosecutors to impanel a second jury in these instances. The bill is modeled after state laws in California and Arizona.
Read the full text of the bill here.