Following the resignation announcement of U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, federal prosecutors on Long Island said they would not seek the death penalty for a man allegedly involved in several killings in Queens.
Last year, Ashcroft had ordered prosecutors to pursue the death penalty against Jairo Zapata, 30, who had been offered a life sentence in exchange for information about other suspects.
The Justice Department said at the time that its decisions on capital cases were intended to ensure the federal death penalty was applied consistently.
Tuesday, however, prosecutors said the department had changed its decision and that Zapata would be sentenced to life in prison in return for pleading guilty to murder.
"It's important because, had the Justice Department held onto its view of the Zapata case, it may have deterred people from coming forward and providing information in investigations," said Richard Jasper, one of Zapata's lawyers.