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The Death of Former U.S. Attorney Griffin Bell and the Dallas Connection

Griffin Bell, Jimmy Carter's U.S. Attorney General, died yesterday at the age of 90; he'd been suffering from pancreatic cancer in an Atlanta hospital. News of his death has resurrected an old Dallas story -- that of Santos Rodríguez, the 12-year-old boy who, in July 1973, was shot in the head by a Dallas police officer investigating a soft-drink machine burglary.

Darrell Cain, the officer who shot Rodríguez, received only a five-year sentence following his trial in Austin; Dallas Hispanics, who had taken to to the streets following the murder, were outraged. In 1978, Carter tried to get the Justice Department to press federal charges against Cain, a request to which Griffin Bell responded, No. In a 2004 interview, Bell explained why he couldn't send the federal government after Cain:

After a full inquiry, Bell concluded that heinous as the crime and the inadequate punishment might be, the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy meant that prosecuting the case again could not be legally justified.

Carter was furious. Bell told him, well, in that case, he could always get a new Attorney General. Carter did not. --Robert Wilonsky


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