D.C. Indictment Watch: Day 21

Pretty please, can we have our own district attorney?

Here’s an assignment for Sen. Trent Lott and Rep. Dennis Hastert, bosses of the new Republican Congress: Give D.C. its own district attorney! D.C.’s Advisory Referendum A, which directs D.C.’s city council to ask Congress for its own elected D.A., passed overwhelmingly on Nov. 5. Chatterbox understands that Congress, and congressional Republicans in particular, are leery of taking any steps toward making the nation’s capital a truly self-governing entity. Members of Congress like to boss around the people who run the city where they work. And Republicans don’t want to do anything to encourage D.C.’s “home rule” movement, because that could end up giving an overwhelmingly Democratic 51st state two votes in the Senate and one in the House.

But do Republicans really want to come off as being soft on crime? And do they especially want to come off as being soft on the prosecution of the alleged Beltway snipers?

At this writing, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo have been in custody for 21 days. They were caught with the murder weapon, which should make it fairly easy to produce an indictment for murder. Charges have now been filed in Virginia’s Fairfax, Prince William, Hanover, and Spotsylvania counties, and in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. But D.C. has yet to charge Muhammed and Malvo for the Oct. 3 killing of Pascal Charlot just inside the District border. According to the Nov. 7 Washington Post, D.C. is now “the only local jurisdiction with a confirmed sniper shooting where charges have not been filed.”

The likely reason charges have not been filed is that D.C. lacks a death penalty. Are the U.S. attorney (who under present arrangements prosecutes all murders in the District) and the U.S. attorney’s boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, so bent on jurisdiction-shopping that they will deliberately refrain from seeking prosecution for the Charlot killing? How can the failure to prosecute a murder logically be construed as toughness on crime? Is the only legal acknowledgment of Charlot’s murder to be its passing mention in the U.S. attorney’s criminal complaint alleging conspiracy (filed, incidentally, not in D.C. but Maryland)? Mental note for the day: If Chatterbox ever gets snuffed by a spree killer, make sure it happens in Virginia, which executes more people than any other state except Texas. If he’s killed in D.C., the feds may pretend it never happened.