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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

January 30, 2000, Sunday

National Desk 
Woman Faces Death Sentence In State Without That Penalty
By The New York Times 

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - If federal prosecutors have their way, Kristen Gilbert will be put to death in the murders of four men and the attempted murder of three others although the crimes she is accused of were committed in one of 12 states that do not have capital punishment.

The deaths occurred at a Veterans Affairs hospital, which is under concurrent state and federal jurisdiction.

Ms. Gilbert denies the charges and has been fighting Attorney General Janet Reno's authorization last spring to make hers a capital case.

In a motion filed Jan. 20, Ms. Gilbert's lawyers, David Hoose and Harry Miles, argued that trying to impose the death penalty here "is a direct insult to citizenry" of a state that has "time and again rejected the reinstitution of capital punishment."

Prosecutors declined to comment on the motion other than to say that they would file a written response by the Feb. 15 deadline.

But David Bruck, a lawyer with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Council, said, "The continual federalization of criminal law is a retrograde development. It is politically driven and is leading to a huge expansion of federal crimes that were perfectly well handled by the states."

Ms. Gilbert, 32, the divorced mother of two boys, is charged with killing patients while she was a nurse in an acute care unit of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northampton, Mass.

A notice of intention to seek the death penalty submitted by the United States attorney Donald Stern in November 1998 stated that 37 men died during Ms. Gilbert's shifts between January 1995 and February 1996.

She is accused of injecting her victims with epinephrine, a synthetic form of adrenaline that can cause a healthy heart to go into cardiac arrest.

Mr. Stern said through a spokesman that he could not comment on the deliberations leading to the pursuit of the death penalty in the case.

Mr. Hoose, a member of the defense team, said the local district attorney was well equipped to prosecute his client and he has accused the federal Justice Department of using racial considerations in choosing Ms. Gilbert for capital prosecution. Three quarters of those selected for federal death penalty prosecution in the early 1990's were members of minority groups, he said, and Ms. Gilbert, who is white, helps "make the numbers look better."

Mr. Stern, in a letter to The Boston Globe last spring, stated that the suggestion that race played a role in his deliberations was "offensive, unwarranted, and untrue."

Ms. Gilbert is being held in the Hampden County jail outside of Springfield, where her trial is expected to begin in September.

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All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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