Feds to begin executions after almost two-decade lapse

Posted July 29, 2019

The US federal government will resume its use of capital punishment after a 16-year hiatus and have set execution dates for five convicted murderers, US Attorney General Bill Barr announced Thursday.

There were 25 executions in the United States previous year, all carried out by state authorities on people convicted on state charges.

Additionally, while the federal government's previous lethal agent consisted of a drug cocktail, Barr's addendum calls for those sentenced to be injected with exclusively pentobarbital sodium.

Barr approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug cocktail previously used in federal execution with a single drug, pentobarbital. "Barr has also directed the bureau of prisons to schedule the executions of five death-row inmates", adds Fox. "Because we can't ensure that we get these cases right every time, we must eliminate the death penalty".

Welsey Ira Purkey was found guilty in November 2003 in the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri of violently raping and killing a 16-year-old girl before dismembering and burning her body.

He is the first inmate scheduled to be executed, on December 9. Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says it appears they were carefully selected to tamp down public opposition to resuming federal executions. Lee's attorney, Morris Moon, said his client's case "exemplifies numerous serious flaws in the federal death penalty system" and that "executing him would be a grave injustice".

While President Barack Obama avoided calling for death penalty abolition explicitly, his administration avoided using it entirely.

The debate over capital punishment has been longstanding, with advocates arguing it's a deterrent against serious crime and that justice is served for the victims or victims' families.

About 43.6% of the current death row inmates are white, the Death Penalty Information Center found.

The Supreme Court outlawed state and federal death penalty laws in the 1972 decision, Furman v. Georgia, reducing all death sentences pending at the time to life imprisonment.

Lee is a member of a white supremacist group who murdered a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl.

"There aren't that many federal death penalty cases".

"Given the problems that undermine the fairness and reliability of Danny Lee's conviction and death sentence, the government should not move forward with his execution", he said.

The move to execute federal death row inmates was sharply rebuked by opponents of the death penalty.

"Instead, capital punishment seeks to satisfy a desire for vengeance and retribution".

Alfred Bourgeois, who molested and killed his two-year-old daughter.

But that lapse is no surprise as executions in federal prisons are extremely rare.

The most recent federal execution occurred in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a female soldier.

That's slowed the pace of executions in the 25 states where executions are still legal and able to take place, and it "complicated and prevented" executions at the federal level, a department official said.

The United States is the only first-world country that still inflicts capital punishment or the death penalty on convicted criminals. While a majority continue to express support for the death penalty, the share has declined steadily since the 1990s, when almost three-quarters were in favor.

Dustin Lee Honken, convicted of shooting deaths of five people.

The DOJ announcement comes just days after former vice president Joe Biden announced his new criminal justice policy, which includes ending the federal death penalty.