Puerto Rico jury rejects death penalty

AP News
Posted: Sep 27, 2012 3:20 PM
Puerto Rico jury rejects death penalty

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A Puerto Rican jury rejected the death penalty Thursday for a convicted drug dealer accused of killing an ex-girlfriend who was an informant for the U.S. government.

Edison Burgos Montes will face life in prison for the July 2005 killing of Madelyn Semidey Morales, who had been cooperating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the investigation against him. He was found guilty of the killing in late August.

Among those celebrating the verdict was Semidey's mother, Georgina Morales, who said earlier this year that she did not believe in capital punishment.

"I'm satisfied that justice was served," she told reporters after the verdict was announced.

Morales used the opportunity to publicly ask Burgos to tell the family where her daughter's still-missing body is located. "Please tell us where you put it, what you did with her body," she pleaded. "This will cause us anguish for the rest of our lives."

The victim's father, Carlos Semidey, also expressed satisfaction with the verdict. "They did their job. The system worked," he said.

Capital punishment is constitutionally illegal in Puerto Rico, but Burgos was being tried in federal court, which allows for the death penalty. Many Puerto Ricans had criticized the U.S. government for ignoring the island's constitution and becoming involved in local affairs.

The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for two days before issuing their verdict. Burgos remained motionless when the decision was read. Defense attorney Steven Potolsky cried.

The defendant's sibling Efrain Burgos said his brother maintains his innocence.

U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said she respected the verdict, and acknowledged that life imprisonment is also a severe punishment.

Rodriguez said she wasn't concerned whether Puerto Rican ideologies would prevent any jury from favoring capital punishment. "I think we will soon be ready for the appropriate case," she said.

It was the third time a Puerto Rico jury had rejected a federal death penalty case.

Two other federal death penalty cases are expected to go to trial in January, including one involving a man accused of masterminding a 2009 bar shooting that killed eight people. The other centers on a man accused of killing an undercover police officer during a drug transaction.

Puerto Rico's governor has asked that federal authorities prosecute certain cases, including carjackings and drive-by shootings, to reduce violent crime. The island of nearly 4 million people reported a record 1,117 homicides last year.

Osvaldo Burgos, president of the human rights commission of the island's Association of Attorneys, said he doubted any Puerto Rican jury would ever seek capital punishment. Burgos is not related to the defendant.

"It's a measure that does not respond to the idiosyncrasies of our people," he said. "It is a product of failed federal policies."

Puerto Rico banned the death penalty in 1929, two years after farmworker Pascual Ramos was hanged for beheading his boss with a machete. The island reiterated its stance after approving its first constitution in 1952, calling the death penalty a human rights violation.

In 2000, Puerto Rican Judge Salvador Casellas ruled that applying the death penalty would violate Puerto Rico's constitution as well as the federal statute concerning its status as a self-governing entity. His decision was overturned in 2001 by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which ruled that Puerto Rico is subject to federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision.

Puerto Rico joins 17 U.S. states that do not apply the death penalty.