Hang-'Em Prosecutors

Since prosecutors are either elected or politically appointed, they enjoy the TV spotlight of high-profile criminal cases. But when they compete for such cases, justice isn't always served.

That's the situation right now as Maryland, Virginia, and the US Justice Department wrestle in public over which one will be the first to prosecute the suspects in the sniper murders that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area. Their grandstanding contrasts sharply with the cooperation exhibited by the nearly 1,000 law-enforcement officials who caught the two suspects.

Someone, please, come up with another lawyer joke to help break this impasse before the capital-area residents start to despair of seeing justice done.

The arguments center on who's best able to ensure execution of the suspects. But blood lust should not be the criterion for selecting a jurisdiction.

Virginia, second only to Texas in number of executions, claims its laws would also allow the death penalty for the juvenile suspect John Lee Malvo. Maryland's Montgomery County claims it deserves jurisdiction because most of the killings took place there. The Justice Department, which holds the suspects, doesn't want Maryland to prosecute because of that state's historical reluctance to use the death penalty.

From just a legal standpoint, the federal laws being applied to this case appear weaker than the first-degree murder charges in the two states.

Some legal experts say all the cases can be tied together. A smart judge who wants to take politics out of criminal prosecutions would order such a solution. In the meantime, the prosecutors shouldn't embarrass themselves in public.

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