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N.Y. death penalty bill pushed in wake of trooper shootings

By MARC HUMBERT. AP Political Writer
The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — Declaring it has become "open season on law enforcement people," the Republican leader of the state Senate demanded Wednesday that Gov. Eliot Spitzer use his influence to bring back the death penalty.

The call from Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno came in the wake of the shooting of three state troopers in less than 24 hours. One of the three troopers died, the second to die in a manhunt since September.

Bruno said his chamber would approve legislation next week to bring back the death penalty for the killing of police officers and prison guards and in cases of deaths caused by terrorists.

But Bruno said it was up to the state's new Democratic governor to use his leverage with the state Assembly's Democratic majority to win approval for the measure there. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, has rejected past calls for such legislation since a New York Court of Appeals ruling in 2005 effectively nullified the death penalty in New York.

Later, after visiting with the family of one of the surviving troopers at an Albany hospital, Spitzer offered a rebuke of sorts to Bruno at a state Capitol news conference, saying that "on this day, at this particular moment, I think it is best to simply reflect on the extraordinary service and sacrifice of our troopers."

"I know that here at the Capitol, there is an ongoing debate over legislative initiatives and politics," Spitzer added. "Now is not the moment for that debate. There will be much time for that later."

Spitzer declined to answer questions, but spokesman Darren Dopp, asked if the governor thought Bruno's comments were inappropriate said: "I think you can deduce that from what he was saying, yeah."

Dopp, noting that Spitzer favored the death penalty for those who kill police officers, said the governor would meet soon with legislative leaders, "perhaps as early as next week."

Silver noted that his chamber has just passed a number of bills Wednesday to crack down on illegal guns and make New Yorkers safer from gun violence.

"The proliferation of guns is a crisis in this state and this country," Silver said in a statement offering condolences to the dead trooper's family. "Our hearts go out to the troopers who have been wounded," Silver said.

The New York Legislature, at the insistence of newly elected Gov. George Pataki, approved death penalty legislation in 1995, but the Court of Appeals, New York's top tribunal, gutted the measure with a subsequent series of negative rulings and in 2004 ruled that a sentencing provision made the law unconstitutional.

At a state Capitol news conference Wednesday with Bruno, state Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco noted he had attempted to attach the new death penalty bill to a piece of Assembly legislation Tuesday night, only to see 96 members of the 150 members vote that his proposed amendment was "not germane." That effectively killed it.

But Tedisco said he was heartened by the fact that seven Assembly Democrats had joined his GOP colleagues to support the amendment. Tedisco predicted Spitzer could sway enough other Assembly Democrats to turn the tide. Spitzer has said he supports the death penalty in the killing of police officers and for acts of terrorism, but has not made that a priority of his new administration.

Tedisco said it was time for the governor to do so.

"This is the Wild West out there," said the Assembly GOP leader.

"Enough is enough," said John York, Livingston County's sheriff and the chairman of the executive committee of the New York State Sheriff's Association.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

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