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Florida won't seek death for fugitive

Published Oct. 10, 2005

When U.S. marshals accompany Lee O'Bomsawin from a Montreal prison next week to stand trial for a double murder in Jacksonville, O'Bomsawin will have an unprecedented guarantee for a fugitive returning to the United States from Canada: at the Canadian government's insistence, Florida has promised not to seek the death penalty.

According to Florida prosecutors, O'Bomsawin killed his estranged wife, Denise Vinet, and her lover, Vaughan Williams, at a motel parking lot in Jacksonville on the night of March 4, 1987.

The prosecutors say O'Bomsawin stalked the couple from a grocery store where they worked, then shot Williams in the head with a .357 Magnum.

When Ms. Vinet fled into an adjacent highway, the state charges, O'Bomsawin chased her and dragged her to the roadside. There, he shot her twice.

Under Florida law, the two charges of first-degree murder against O'Bomsawin carry a maximum penalty of death in the electric chair. But Canada, exercising a provision in the U.S.-Canadian extradition treaty, secured a guarantee from Florida last week that the death penalty will not be sought.

This left O'Bomsawin facing a possible 50-year jail term _ life imprisonment with no parole for 25 years on each of the two counts.

Others accused of murder who have fled to Canada in recent years, all Americans, have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Canada's courts and government to deny U.S. requests for extradition on the grounds that state laws in the United States made them eligible for the death penalty, which was abolished by Canada in 1976.

Now, Canada has joined nations that have required guarantees against the death penalty before agreeing to extradite fugitives in capital crimes to the United States.