Houston federal prosecutors insist on death penalty for 2013 slaying of San Jacinto County postal worker
A Justice Department prosecutor confirmed Wednesday that the Trump administration plans to pursue the death penalty against a San Jacinto County man accused of killing a postal worker and burning her body.
The Houston procedural hearing on the 2013 case came just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he may seek the federal death penalty against the suspect in a mass shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday.
James Wayne Ham, 43, wearing an olive green jail jumpsuit, sat silently at the defense table during the two-hour hearing. Ham has repeatedly offered to plead guilty to the 2013 murder of Eddie “Marie” Youngblood in exchange for a life sentence. But Attorney General Jefferson Sessions has no plans to back down from the determination made by his predecessors under President Barack Obama, according to Sharad Sushil Khandelwal of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Taking snipes at Justice officials for their sluggish pace and lack of preparation, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes questioned Khandelwal about the utility of spending time and money to seek the death penalty when Ham would spend the rest of his life behind bars as a result of a guilty plea.
“To the United States this is not a question of money but of justice,” Khandelwal said. He explained that the government believes Ham has no remorse for his actions, based on intercepted calls from facility where Ham is being detained in which he boasted about killing Youngblood.
“It’s not your money, it’s everybody else’s money,” the judge said. “Either way he’s incapacited. He’ll either be dead or in prison.”
Ham was indicted in the May 2013 death of Youngblood while she worked her rural postal route in Coldspring about 60 miles north of Houston. He is charged with murdering a federal employee and possessing a weapon in a crime resulting in death.
Ham had an ongoing dispute with Youngblood, who he thought was in cahoots with his estranged wife, who was also a rural mail carrier, in an attempt to tamper with his mail and reroute deliveries to her home.
The government’s initial notice of intent to seek the death penalty indicated that Ham had been charged with raping a female relative and sexually assaulting a woman he met in a bar. He has threatened to kill his wife, shot and killed his estranged wife’s goats and at a pair of dogs that belonged to another family and has stolen guns, the document said.
Ham’s current defense team, who have only had the case since June, told the judge Wednesday they needed two years to prepare for trial. The government asked for the trial to be held in February.
Judge Hughes said he would review the trial plans and aim to make a determination later this month.