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A federal judge on Friday challenged U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's decision to seek the death penalty for mob boss Joseph Massino, calling the move "deeply troubling."

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis made the comments after prosecutors told him that Ashcroft, who announced his resignation Tuesday, had instructed them to pursue the death penalty for the 1999 killing of Gerlando Sciascia, a captain in Massino's crime family.

Garaufis said Massino, 61, already faces life in prison without parole for an earlier conviction. He questioned the timing of Ashcroft's decision to make Massino the first Mafia kingpin in decades to face execution. "Mr. Ashcroft's choice to make such a sobering and potentially life-ending decision now, after several delays, and only after tendering his resignation to the president . . . is deeply troubling to this court," he said. He said he will seek a review from Ashcroft's successor.

Massino is awaiting sentencing after being convicted in July of orchestrating a quarter-century of murder, racketeering, arson, extortion and other crimes.

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