Today's news reminds us of the value of that "bargaining chip":
This raises another question - death penalty opponents frequently cite high costs as a problem with the death penalty, but couldn't the mere existence of the death penalty create significant savings by encouraging plea bargains in capital cases? In 2000, Spokane's friendly local serial killer, Robert L. Yates, Jr., plead guilty to 13 murders and was sentenced to 408 1/2 years in prison. The plea agreement spared Yates the death penalty, ensured his cooperation with prosecutors, and spared Spokane the cost of a lengthy trial.
BATH, Pa. (AP) - Prosecutors are considering whether to make Kathy MacClellan one of the oldest U.S. defendants in modern times to stand trial on a capital murder charge.
MacClellan allegedly attacked Marguerite "Tuddy" Eyer with the claw end of a hammer Feb. 7. The victim, who was found in the kitchen of her home a few blocks away from the MacClellan house, told police that "Kathy Mc ... did it with a hammer," according to court documents. She died 13 minutes after being rushed to the emergency room; the coroner said she had been struck in the head 37 times.
Police said they found Eyer's wallet and checkbook in MacClellan's house, and MacClellan's face, hair and orange stirrup pants were covered in Eyer's blood.
Even if McClellan were convicted and sentenced to lethal injection, her age and Pennsylvania's long appeals process make it unlikely that she would be executed. University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky, a defense attorney, suggested prosecutors might be using the prospect of a death sentence as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations.
Finally, a story from 2002 reminds us of how important this bargaining chip can be for national security:
Cases like these show us how useful the death penalty can be - particularly when it is not imposed.
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- The FBI agent who sold his country's secrets to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds will be sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole.
That sentence is part of the plea bargain Robert Hanssen struck last summer to avoid the death penalty and to allow his wife, Bonnie, to receive part of his government pension.
In exchange, the government was to learn when and how Hanssen turned over to Moscow the identities of dozens of Russians spying for the United States, highly classified eavesdropping technology and even nuclear war plans.
Update, Apr. 9: Death Penalty threat saves the expense of a trial for serial bomber Eric Rudolph.