Feds seek death penalty against JCC gunman


LOS ANGELES, Feb. 21 (JTA) — Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Buford Furrow Jr., the avowed white supremacist accused of killing a Filipino American mail carrier after he wounded five people at a Jewish community center last August.

Jeff Rouss, executive director of the Jewish Community Centers of Los Angeles, thinks death would be an appropriate punishment.

“This man killed an innocent individual who was a public servant,” Rouss told the Los Angeles Times. “He terrorized children and hurt them at day care. His was an act of terrorism and it was an act of murder.”

According to the 15-count indictment, Furrow went on a shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in suburban Los Angeles last Aug. 10, wounding three young children, a teen-age counselor and an adult receptionist. An hour later, he allegedly gunned down mail carrier Joseph Ileto, because, he later told agents, he was a government worker and not white.

Furrow surrendered to FBI agents in Las Vegas a day after the rampage and reportedly told agents that he wanted to send “a wake-up call to America to kill Jews.”

It is unusual for the Justice Department to seek the death penalty — no one has been executed by the federal government since 1963 — and some analysts saw the decision as part of an effort to crack down on hate crimes.

“The federal government wants to send a message about how seriously they take this crime,” law professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, told The Los Angeles Times.

According to the Times, some of Furrow’s defense lawyers have approached Jewish attorneys to enlist their help in persuading the government to settle for a lesser sentence — life without possibility of parole.

But Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, favors the death penalty in this case.

“I think the death penalty is an absolutely appropriate punishment for a crime of this nature,” Hier told the Times. “For people who commit acts of terrorism against innocent people at random, the greatest deterrent is knowing that they face the possibility of a death sentence.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, does not agree. The director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center told the Times that the government move would deflect attention from hate crimes and toward the controversy over capital punishment.

The trial is to begin no sooner than Nov. 14.

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