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Clinton Likely to Stay Federal Execution on Questions of Fairness

Aired July 7, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Questions about the fairness of the death penalty are delaying the first federal execution in almost 40 years.

CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace joins us with the details from the White House -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the death penalty is an issue that has come under more and more scrutiny. You have states, such as Illinois, calling for a moratorium on state executions after a number of death row inmates were exonerated. And now comes word that President Clinton plans to grant a stay, in effect postponing what would have been the first federal execution since John F. Kennedy was president.

This will affect Juan Raul Garza. He is a man sitting on death row in Texas, convicted of a number of drug-related murders. He was scheduled to be executed August 5. Why the delay? White House officials say the president wanted to review new clemency guidelines that the Justice Department should complete in the week or two. These are procedures that federal death row inmates would follow to apply for a request for leniency.

White House officials say that President Clinton wanted to give Mr. Garza and his attorneys enough time to review the new guidelines and to decide whether or not to file for clemency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE SIEWERT, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The president wants to make sure that Mr. Garza has a full opportunity to submit a request for clemency and that the president himself has an opportunity to review that matter completely. Given that timeline, we expect the president will stay Mr. Garza's sentence to make sure that process has an opportunity to play itself out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Garza's attorneys so far have not returned our calls for comment, but they are likely to use the new guidelines to argue that the federal death penalty system, the way it is currently operating, is discriminatory. In fact, the Justice Department is currently putting together a review to address concerns such as why minorities make up more than 70 percent of federal death penalty cases, and why federal prosecutors seem to go after and try to use the death penalty in certain parts of the country more so than in other areas.

Mr. Clinton himself expressed some concerns about the racial and geographic disparities when it comes to the federal death penalty system in a news conference last week; again, an issue that is getting more and more scrutiny and an issue that has even surfaced on the presidential campaign trail.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, reporting live from the White House.

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