The two men and a young woman accused of beating, killing and mutilating an Albuquerque man over marijuana could face the federal death penalty. However, history has shown that it’s rare for anyone to be executed by the federal government.
It’s a lengthy process that begins with getting the U.S. Attorney General to approve seeking the death penalty. The death penalty was abolished in New Mexico, but the feds can still seek it.
In August 2017, Mariah Ferry, Jose Torrez and Chase Smothermon allegedly kidnapped and killed John Soyka of Albuquerque over stolen weed. Soyka was reportedly dismembered and buried in a shallow grave.
The feds have since taken over prosecution, and court documents reveal the feds may seek the death penalty for all three. In order to do that, the government is required to meet certain criteria first, then ultimately get approval from the U.S. Attorney General.
The U.S. Attorney for New Mexico won’t confirm to KRQE News 13 if they’re asking the AG for that approval, but court documents suggest that’s the case after a recent extension to the deadline for the AG to approve seeking the death penalty.
Even if the AG does give the approval, data shows the likelihood of Ferry, Smothermon and Torrez being executed is very small.
The feds have only received AG approval to seek the death penalty 10 times in New Mexico and none of those cases have resulted in execution.
Most recently, the AG approved it for Kirby Cleveland, who killed a Navajo Nation police officer. In that case, the feds ended up taking another direction.
Prior to Cleveland, John McCluskey faced lethal injection for kidnapping and killing a retired couple traveling through New Mexico in their RV. Jurors, however, voted for a life sentence rather than death.
It’s a trend across the country. Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows in more than half of cases, a plea agreement is reached or juries vote for a life sentence instead of death. Other reasons people are not executed include suicide before trial, clemency and acquittal.
In fact, only three people have been federally executed in modern history. One of those was Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
Right now, 63 people are on death row.
In the two years that President Trump has been in office, his AG — formerly Jeff Sessions — has approved at least a dozen death penalty prosecutions, according to the Associated Press.
It’s an uptick from President Obama’s final year in office, but not necessarily more overall.