By Raam Wong
Las Vegas Review-Journal
WASHINGTON — The slaying of a Las Vegas police officer last week might prompt Congress to consider mandatory sentences for killers of police officers for the second time in a year.
Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., on Thursday introduced legislation that would make the murder or attempted murder of public safety officials a federal crime and require a 30-year minimum sentence upon conviction.
The legislation comes two days after thousands of mourners gathered at a memorial for Las Vegas police Sgt. Henry Prendes, 37, who was killed in a shootout Feb. 1.
"In the tragic case of Sgt. Prendes, had his killer lived, we would have demanded he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Porter said.
The legislation would not step on state laws, Porter spokesman T.J. Crawford said. Rather, he said it would provide state officials with options on having a police slaying prosecuted in state or federal courts as a way to seek the toughest penalties.
"With a law like this, there is cooperation between state and federal officials as to which approach works best to keep this person behind bars," Crawford said.
High-profile cases have prompted previous efforts to impose stiff federal sentences.
Last spring, the murder of a Chicago federal judge's family, followed by a shooting in an Atlanta courthouse, prompted the House to consider similar legislation. It included similar minimum sentences for violence against a judge's family and public safety officials.
The House voted 375-45 to send the bill to the Senate, where it stalled in committee.
Opponents of such efforts call minimum sentences too rigid.
"As heinous as the crimes are, mandatory minimum sentences really tie the judge's hands," said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Minimum Sentences.
Mandatory sentences aren't a deterrent, Price said, adding that a criminal is unlikely to consider his prison sentence before he pulls the trigger.
Prendes was responding to a domestic disturbance call when he was gunned down in a shootout with 21-year-old Amir Crump, whom police shot and killed.
Porter said he was confident that Congress would move on the bill as soon as next week.
Prendes' wife, Dawn Prendes, was strongly in support of the bill, Porter said, adding, "I can't imagine the pain she's experiencing."
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Copyright 2006 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Bill proposed in response to killing of Las Vegas police officer