Court sets date for first federal execution in 37 years

HARRISBURG, Pa. - An inmate sentenced to death for strangling his cellmate has dropped all appeals, making him likely to become the first person to be executed by the federal government since 1963.

David Paul Hammer, 41, a con man so violent that Oklahoma built him a special isolation cell with steel doors and shatterproof glass, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 15.

The date was set by a federal judge in Williamsport, Pa., on Thursday after a judicial panel granted his request to drop an appeal of his death sentence.

Hammer, who is on federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., where the execution would take place, is representing himself. His court-appointed lawyer, Ronald C. Travis, is barred from taking action.

''Not only is he riding on the train, he is the engineer,'' Travis said.

A prisoner since age 19, Hammer killed Andrew Marti in 1996 by tying him to his bunk and strangling him with a braided bedsheet at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

Before the killing, Hammer had built a reputation as one of Oklahoma's most troublesome prisoners. He was sentenced to more than 1,200 years for a spree of kidnapping and attempted murder that followed his escape from prison in the early 1980s.

His misdeeds while in state prison included credit-card scams and a telephone bomb threat that shut down the Oklahoma Capitol. He once used a prison employee's credit card to send flowers to the warden.

Travis said the incidents were part of a scheme to get him transferred, and he eventually got his wish, landing in the federal penal system.

He pleaded guilty in 1998 to killing his cellmate. He initially refused to challenge an execution scheduled for January 1999, then changed his mind and allowed an appeal. He changed his mind again and asked to be executed as quickly as possible.

President Clinton can intervene in the execution without being asked, Travis said. In July, Clinton, a death penalty supporter, postponed the execution of another federal inmate, Juan Raul Garza.

Hundreds of people have been executed by states since the Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976.

The last execution carried out by the federal government was 37 years ago, when Victor Feguer was hanged in Iowa for kidnapping and killing a doctor.


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