- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

ROANOKE (AP) — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has authorized prosecutors to seek a death sentence for the 72-year-old former mayor of Pocahontas, who is charged with the drug-related slayings of a family of three in this Tazewell County town.

Tony Giorno, an assistant U.S. attorney in Roanoke, said he was informed of Mr. Ashcroft’s decision Thursday.

Prosecutors say the former mayor, Charles Wesley Gilmore, planned the 1989 slayings. Mr. Gilmore is scheduled to be tried in October along with Walter LeFight Church, believed to be the triggerman.

Amnesty International lists two 75-year-olds as the oldest men put to death in the United States in the past 100 years. If Mr. Gilmore is convicted and sentenced to death, his appeals could continue well beyond his 75th birthday.

Mr. Gilmore is in poor health and Mr. Giorno acknowledged that the possibility of the former mayor being executed is remote.

Capital-punishment opponents question the wisdom of seeking the death sentence against elderly defendants, saying the money spent prosecuting them is often wasted when they die of natural causes. And even if old defendants live to see their execution date, critics say, they pose little or no threat to society by then.

“I think most any jury in the country would be somewhat repelled at the idea of executing a man in his 80s,” said David Bruck, a South Carolina lawyer affiliated with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, a group that tracks such cases and assists defense attorneys.

Federal prosecutors say Mr. Gilmore headed a drug ring in Pocahontas at the same time he served as mayor. Prosecutors say he hired Mr. Church and Samuel Ealy to kill Robert Davis, a fellow drug dealer whom Mr. Gilmore believed was cooperating with police in an investigation of his drug trade.

Mr. Davis was shot to death April 16, 1989, along with his wife, Una Mae, and her 14-year-old son from a previous marriage.

Mr. Gilmore was arrested in June 1989 on federal drug kingpin charges. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was released in 1999.

Ealy was acquitted of three counts of capital murder in state court in 1991 but was convicted of seven other charges related to the slayings in June 2002 in federal court. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Church is awaiting a second trial after a federal jury failed to reach a verdict on capital murder and conspiracy charges.

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