U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for a Maryland man charged with the 1996 slayings of two lesbian hikers in Shenandoah National Park. Assistant U.S. attorney Tony Giorno said the brutality of the slayings of Julianne Marie Williams and Laura "Lollie" Winans led him to seek permission to pursue the death penalty for Darrell David Rice. Federal authorities are involved in the case because the slayings occurred in a national park. Rice, 35, of Columbia, Md., has been charged with two counts of capital murder in the killings and faces two additional counts of capital murder on grounds that he intentionally selected his victims because they were female and gay.
Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were found about a week after they set out on a camping trip in May 1996. Their bodies were discovered about a quarter-mile from Skyline Drive off the Appalachian Trail. Their throats had been slit, their mouths gagged, and their hands bound. Winans had been a student at Unity College, majoring in outdoor recreation. She had also worked as a volunteer at a rape crisis center in nearby Waterville, Maine.