There is a federal death penalty, just like there is the option of capital punishment in the majority of states, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh comes to mind as a well-recognized example of the federal death penalty statute in action. (McVeigh's 2001 execution was the first exercise of federal capital punishment since 1963.)
However, this week was the first time since federal capital punishment was authorized once again by Congress, over twenty years ago, that a Florida jury actually voted to put someone to death as punishment for their crime.
Perhaps you've heard of the Turnpike Killings.
On March 31, 2009, defendants Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez, Jr. stood to hear an unanimous jury verdict that condemned the two men to death for the killing of Luis Julian Escobedo, 4, and Luis Damian Escobedo, 3, back in October 2006, while voting that the two defendants should receive life sentences for the killings of Luis and Yessica Escobedo. The jury deliberated almost four days before returning with their decision.
Of course, this is a drug-related crime. The Escobedo couple was involved with a drug cartel run by Daniel Varela, who has been sentenced to life in prison on drug trafficking charges, and it is undisputed that the deaths were related to the distribution and sale of cocaine in South Florida.
This is far from over.
An obvious consideration upon appeal will be the diminished mental capacity of Sanchez. Some have suggested that it is telling factor for appeal that the jury's vote imposes the death penalty because of the deaths of two children, but not for the two adults - that this gives us information regarding the jury's decision-making in sentencing (an obvious emotional component).
However, the federal death statute has a statutory aggravator for the age of the victim (18 U.S.C. 3592(c)(11)) and the vulnerability of the victim is to be considered. A victim can be considered particularly vulnerable due to a young age, as well as being advanced in years or suffering an infirmity. Those arguments suggesting that the distinction in sentences given regarding the child victims forms a strong basis for appeal may not have a strong statutory foundation.
Nevertheless, these death penalty decisions will be vigorously appealed. Count on it.