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Justice Dept. Stops One of Two Death Penalty Cases in San Francisco

The Justice Department has intervened to stop one of two death penalty trials in San Francisco. In the one case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office had reached a plea agreement with the defendant, but the Bush Justice Department insisted on going ahead with the death penalty.  It looks like the plea agreement will now stand. The Bush administration had ignored the wishes of some U.S. Attorney’s offices that made deals with defendants, some which involved agreements to cooperate. Those moves hurt the credibility of prosecutors. This reversal by the Justice Department is a clear sign of a change in policy regarding the death penalty and the autonomy of local U.S. Attorneys.

By Bob Egelko
Chronicle Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO — President Obama’s Justice Department halted the death penalty trial of an alleged San Francisco gang leader Monday by accepting a 40-year prison sentence that the Bush administration had vetoed.

The plea agreement for Emile Fort remained on hold after a federal judge heard a tearful plea from a murder victim’s mother for a life sentence and summoned prosecutors to a closed-door session to describe their case against Fort.

Afterward, despite apparent irritation at his lack of authority to change the terms of the plea deal, U.S. District Judge William Alsup indicated he was likely to accept the agreement at a hearing today.

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