HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A decision is expected soon from US Attorney General William Barr on whether the government will pursue the death penalty against an alleged crime boss in Hawaii.
Barr will decide if Michael Miske should face the death penalty if convicted on several charges, including murder and kidnapping.
Prosecutors say Miske is the leader of an alleged criminal enterprise linked to a long list of violent crimes. Ten others have also been indicted in connection with the case.
Ashley Edwards, a spokesperson for the district of Hawaii office, said there is no exact timeline for Barr to make a decision but will be “well before the trial.”
Trial is currently scheduled for September.
“Part of the reason it has to go through that process is because, not only is it the most serious of all cases, but they’re also incredibly expensive and time consuming,” said attorney Victor Bakke.
Hawaii is one of only a few states where the death penalty has never been used. It was abolished ahead of statehood. But the federal government can pursue the death penalty. And last week, for the first time since 2003, prisoners convicted of federal crimes were executed in Indiana.
If the Department of Justice approves capital punishment in the Miske case, jury selection could be lengthy.
Bakke said that’s especially true if potential jurors notify the court that they absolutely could not impose a sentence of death.
“It would be up to the judge to excuse them for cause,” he said.
“The judge is going to have to be kicking people off left and right because they honestly cannot commit to something that goes against their beliefs.”
Attorney Michael Green added that people in Hawaii have a lot of connections and could find it difficult. “Especially here ... justice and fairness and aloha,” he said.
After a jury is impaneled, the first phase begins with the criminal trial.
If Miske is convicted of the eligible counts, the second phase begins. And it is practically another trial for jurors to determine if he should be put to death.
“When they get in the back and they have that paper in front of them in the second phase, it’s tough to sign your name,” said Green.
The last capital punishment trial in Hawaii federal court was in 2014 when Army soldier Naeem Williams beat his daughter to death on base.
Attorney Brook Hart was part of the Williams case. “Death penalty trials are incredibly cumbersome,” he said, adding the cost of the Williams prosecution and sentencing exceeded $1 million.
In the end, Williams was sentenced to life without parole.
Hart said the government has to notify the defendants and attorneys ahead of time if the case will include death as a sentence, but the government can always back off later.