Feds no longer seeking death penalty in triple killing

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Federal prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty for a Connecticut drug dealer convicted for his role in the killings of three people beaten to death in a turf dispute over crack cocaine sales.

The U.S. attorney’s office notified Azibo Aquart’s lawyer about its decision late last month, according to a document filed Tuesday in federal court in New Haven.

A spokesperson for federal prosecutors in Connecticut had no immediate comment Thursday.

Aquart, now 39, was sentenced to death in 2012 for the 2005 killings in Bridgeport, becoming the first federal court defendant in Connecticut to receive the death penalty since federal capital punishment was reinstated in 1988.

But a federal appeals court overturned the sentence in 2018, after finding prosecutorial misconduct during the cross-examination of a now-retired FBI agent. The court, however, upheld Aquart’s convictions for murder in aid of racketeering and other crimes, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. He now faces up to life in prison.

Aquart was one of four men convicted in the killings of Tina Johnson, James Reid and Basil Williams, who were beaten to death with baseball bats on Aug. 24, 2005, and found bound with duct tape in Johnson’s apartment.

Prosecutors said Johnson had been selling crack cocaine in Aquart’s drug turf in the Charles Street Apartments without his permission. Aquart and his associates were involved in numerous acts of violence to maintain control over their drug selling activities in the apartment complex, authorities said.

“Azibo Aquart carried out heinous crimes, and committed horrific acts of violence,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said after Aquart was sentenced to death. “There is no joy on this day — only the recognition that we must continue not only to seek justice for victims of violent crime, but also to do all we can to prevent and deter drug trafficking and the terror that so often accompanies it.”

Aquart’s lawyer, David Moraghan, had no comment Thursday.

Nearly 50 men are on federal death row, while Connecticut abolished its death penalty in 2015.

Former President Donald Trump resumed federal executions last year after a 17-year hiatus and his Justice Department put to death 13 people, an unprecedented run that ended just days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration. No president in more than 120 years had overseen as many federal executions. Biden favors eliminating the death penalty.

Other than Aquart’s case, there are at least three pending federal prosecutions in Connecticut where defendants are eligible for the death penalty, but none in which prosecutors currently are seeking capital punishment, according to Thomas Carson, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office.