PUERTO RICO. TWO MEN SPARED DEATH IN WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN FIRST EXECUTIONS IN 80 YEARS
May 3, 2005: a jury in Puerto Rico sentenced two convicted murderers, Hernando Medina Villegas and Lorenzo Catalan Roman, to life imprisonment, rather than ordering them to be executed.
Had the jury ordered the death penalty, they would have been the first executions for nearly 80 years.
The Puerto Rican constitution bans the death penalty, but the island is an American commonwealth.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that federal legislation permitting executions applies in the island.
In March, a jury found Villegas, 25, and Roman, 24, guilty of killing a lorry security guard in 2002.
But when the jury reconvened to vote on sentencing, it did not back the death penalty.
US Attorney Humberto Garcia said the jury verdict was not unanimous.
"At least one, perhaps more and maybe even the majority were willing to impose the death penalty in this case," he said.
He said he would seek the death penalty in future cases.
Prosecutors had argued that it was a federal case, because the attack interfered with interstate commerce.
But opponents of the death penalty accused the US of trying to impose it in a colonialist fashion, against the wishes of Puerto Ricans.
There were cheers from anti-death penalty campaigners as the sentence was announced. (Sources: BBC, 03/05/2005)