Connecticut federal jury imposes death penalty for first time

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 15, 2011 4:19 PM
Connecticut federal jury imposes death penalty for first time

CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - A federal jury in New Haven, Connecticut voted unanimously on Wednesday to impose the federal death penalty against a Bridgeport man convicted of bludgeoning to death three fellow city residents in August 2005.

This is the first time since the U.S. federal death penalty was reinstituted in 1988 that a federal jury in Connecticut has found that a defendant should be sentenced to death, said David Fein, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut.

The Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate the death penalty in 1976.

On May 23, following a month-long murder trial, a U.S. District Court jury found Azibo Aquart, 30, of Bridgeport, guilty of using a baseball bat to beat to death Tina Johnson, 43, James Reid, 40, and Basil Williams, 54, in 2005 after a drug dealing dispute.

Aquart was found guilty of conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering and of committing the racketeering murders of the three victims; committing three counts of drug-related murder; and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, Fein said.

Authorities say Aquart founded and led a drug-trafficking group that engaged in acts of violence, such as threats and assaults, to maintain its control over drug dealing at a Bridgeport apartment complex.

According to evidence produced at trial, Aquart's group got involved in a dispute with Tina Johnson, a resident of the complex who sometimes sold smaller quantities of crack cocaine without Aquart's approval. Aquart and his co-conspirators entered Johnson's apartment , bound her, her boyfriend James Reid and friend Basil Williams with duct tape, and brutally beat the victims to death with baseball bats, prosecutors said.

Aquart, who police said also is known as "Azibo Siwatu Jahi Smith," "Dreddy," and "Jumbo," and others then drilled the front door of the apartment shut from the inside, authorities said.

The jury on Wednesday unanimously found that Aquart should be sentenced to death for committing both the racketeering- and drug-related murders of Johnson and Williams, but it was split as to an appropriate penalty -- life imprisonment or death -- for the racketeering- and drug-related murder of Reid.

(Reporting by Zach Howard, Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)