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Former US attorney relieved with Ariz. murder case

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

PHOENIX —  A former U.S. attorney fired in 2006 after clashing with his boss over a death penalty case says he's relieved the Justice Department is no longer seeking to execute the defendant.

Federal prosecutors made a plea deal with Jose Rios Rico that took the death penalty off the table. He was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison plus 55 years; he had earlier this month pleaded guilty to murder, drug and firearm charges in the case.

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton told The Associated Press he didn't think prosecutors had enough evidence to get the death penalty. He said he was fired after arguing that point with then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who wanted him to pursue it anyway.

Charlton was one of nine U.S. attorneys who were ousted in 2006 in an unusual midterm purge that ignited charges of White House political meddling at the fiercely independent Justice Department.

The firings led to congressional investigations, an internal Justice Department inquiry and calls on Capitol Hill for the resignation of Gonzales, who left last year.

"A more seasoned group of individuals are reviewing these decisions now," Charlton said Monday of the Department of Justice.

"Attorney General Gonzales and his deputy attorney general were primarily concerned with the dogma and political concerns that surround the death penalty as opposed to what was right," Charlton said.

He said Gonzales and his deputies at the Justice Department ordered him to pursue the death penalty while he was managing the case. At the same time, they didn't want to spend the money to exhume the body of the victim, which Charlton believed would have given prosecutors key forensic evidence to prove their case.

Gonzales later told a Senate panel that he fired Charlton because of their disagreement over the case. Gonzales said he felt Charlton displayed "poor judgment" in pushing his views about pursuing the death penalty against Rios Rico.

Gonzales testified Charlton also disagreed with the department on other issues, and resisted the department's policy against using taped confessions.

As part of the deal, Rios Rico admitted to shooting his methamphetamine dealer, Angela Pinkerton, on Feb. 26, 2003. He took her drugs and then hid evidence of her murder with a few companions.

The murder charge carries a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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